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  • Writer's pictureDebra Oaks Coe

What is a Good Shepherd?

Jesus never saw multitudes or crowds of people. He always saw individuals - faces of men, women, and children - each with unique challenges in need of hope for a better future. To Him, people like the lepers, the woman with the issue, the woman at the well, the blind man, etc. were like sheep in need of a good shepherd that would tend, love, care, and protect them. Where most of us aren’t familiar with raising sheep. I believe we miss much of the deeper insights Jesus intended. One experience that helped me was told by Elder John R. Lasater at the April 1988 General Conference. He was in Morocco on U.S. government business traveling through the desert with a group of five large black limousines. He was in the third limousine and lagging some distance behind when they came up over a hill and saw that the limousine in front of them was pulled off the road due to an accident. They stopped their car and noticed an old shepherd, dressed in long flowing robes, talking to the driver. Close by, was his small flock of sheep. The king’s vehicle had hit one of the sheep. The driver was explaining the law to the shepherd who was now entitled to 100 times the value of this lamb at maturity. But if that sum were accepted, the law then required that the injured sheep must then be slain, and the meat given to the people.

Surprisingly, Elder Lasater’s interpreter quickly added, “But the old shepherd will not accept the money. They never do.” As predicted, the shepherd lifted the injured lamb and placed it in a large pouch on the front of his robe. He stroked the lamb’s head and kept repeating its name. The interpreter further explained that good shepherds name their sheep and know each by their name.

This was not simply a “flock” of sheep to this shepherd. Each one was special. He knew them individually and no amount of money was tempting to him. While I might see a flock of sheep, this Shepherd saw individual lambs, ewes, and rams - each of which he knew and loved. In our world too often we see groups of people. Businesses often just see potential customers in their analysis of cost, market share, and the bottom lines instead of faces of people in need of decent pay and families in need of essential goods and services. Politicians see newspaper headlines, crowds at rallies, and what they need to say to get votes instead of faces of people needing medicine, mothers struggling to find good childcare. and others in need of a job that pays enough to get their children above the poverty level. As the Good Shepherd of people, Jesus saw the faces of those in need of healing, belonging, and comfort regardless of their religious beliefs, national origin, status, or worthiness. As His disciples, we are called to love as He loved.

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