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Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)
Did you know that studies have shown that humans can act a lot like sheep without even knowing it? Ironically, other studies have shown that sheep don’t always act like sheep. These studies challenge our assumption that sheep tend to follow a leader blindly. While some sociologists point out that humans can take on a herd mentality, blindly following a leader or a crowd, other research (using GPS monitoring, no less) shows that sheep tend to be independent. They follow the herd only when they sense a need for safety in numbers. In other words, sheep actually make intelligent decisions that sometimes elude us humans!
This little insight is important because many biblical analogies talk about God or Jesus as our shepherd and about us as sheep in his care. So understanding how intelligent sheep can be—and how attentive shepherds can be to their flocks—can help illustrate the relationship that Jesus wants to have with us.
For example, sheep can recognize as many as fifty other sheep for up to two years. They can also recognize their shepherd’s face and sense his emotions. They can even have emotional responses to traumatic situations—responses that will color the way they act for years afterward.
So sheep are not just docile, dimwitted animals who need constant, high-maintenance supervision. And neither are we! God knows that we are intelligent creatures endowed with a free will. It’s how he made us, after all! He respects our decisions, even if they are wrong. As a good and loving shepherd, he will try to keep us in his flock, under his care. But he also knows that we sometimes need to figure things out for ourselves—just as a sheep needs to.
Today, reflect on what it means for you to be a member of Jesus’ flock, the Church. Are you the kind of sheep who keeps wandering away and getting into trouble? Or are you one who knows the “goodness and kindness” that is the heritage of those who stay close to the shepherd (Psalm 23:6)? If you’ve wandered too far, know that your Shepherd is always ready to take you back and restore you with the “restful waters” of his love (23:2). You belong to him, and he belongs to you!
“Jesus, you are my Shepherd. I place my life in your hands. Keep me safe today.”
Ezekiel 34:1-11; Matthew 20:1-16
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