25 April 2010

Psalm 23

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." (v.1)


For most of my life I have lived in the city and so, for me, the imagery of sheep and shepherds is not one that sits easily with contemporary urban culture. Even though I have met a few shepherds it is not easy to appreciate the work they do and what being a shepherd entails. The role of a contemporary shepherd will have differences and similarities with biblical shepherds who, as part of their job, would spend days up on the hills alone, sometimes having to fend off wild animals.

The biblical idea of God and then Jesus as shepherd led, in the Church, to the notion of pastoral care - a practice and discipline that again needs to be prioritised within the Church. But writers like Riet Bons-Storm (a Dutch feminist theologian) say that the whole image of sheep and shepherd is one of inequality: the term pastoral can be disempowering, if not insulting, to those receiving such care. The very term 'pastoral' therefore can produce ambivalence because of the above reasons but, in addition, think ultimately what happens to sheep? They are bred to end up on our dinner table!

However, the shepherds that I have met have been people who have worked very hard. During lambing season we would rarely see them at church, or at anything else, because they were working such long hours and needed to be there for the animals. They are people who are committed, who work extremely hard and who put their animals first. Despite the reservations expressed about the term pastoral the dedication of those shepherds are a mirror of the love that God shows for us.

To Ponder

How do you respond to the criticism of the words 'shepherd' and 'pastoral'?

How might we make the idea of God and Jesus as our 'shepherd' relevant for a contemporary urban situation?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Christine Jones

Christine Jones, an ordained Methodist minister, is currently director of the Urban Theology Unit in Sheffield, a centre which emphasises the importance of bringing theology and contemporary culture together. At UTU she is responsible for preordination training, teaching on the Foundation Degree, MA and supervising MPhil PhD students.