The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

 

Psalm 23

 

In the Midrashim, the Jewish “commentaries” to the Torah, there is a story about when Moses was tending Jethro’s flocks in the wilderness: Moses notices that one kid is missing. He leaves the other sheep to go after the stray one. Moses finds the kid when it stood drinking in a pool of water. Moses understands that the kid was thirsty and that this was the reason he ran away. He puts the kid on his shoulder to carry it back.

I find this story from Shemos Rabbah (2:2) interesting: A story about the lamb and the shepherd, where water is central in the course of events. It is the same old story told over and over again. In the Midrash this is God testing Moses as a leader to see if he was compassionate enough to care for the flock. He satisfies the needs of each, according to the individual’s unique capacity as Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz puts it. Moses cared for and understood the lamb. He brought it back home without judgement.

In the house of the publicans Jesus got criticized for sharing a meal with sinners. He replies: For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. (Mathew 18:12). He transforms a sinner into an Apostle. Jesus might very well refer to this particular story about Moses when he, at this time, tells the parable of the lost sheep:

What man of you that hath an hundred sheep, and if he shall lose one of them, doth he not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after that which was lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, lay it upon his shoulders, rejoicing? And coming home, call together his friends and neighbours, saying to them: Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost? I say to you that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance. (Luke 15)

Returning to the herd is done by penance. The thirsty lamb was not sinful, he was thirsty. He was not judged. The water purified the lamb just as the penance purifies the sinner. The baptism, the baptized.

A few verses further down in Luke 15, there is another story of a lost one: The prodigal son. It also depicts the feast of the reverted:

When the prodigal son, returns home, he is welcomed in abundance, His father fell upon his neck and kissed him. He is dressed in the finest robe, a ring are put on his hand and the fatted calf is slaughtered. The older son that remained home, working on the fields, fails to see what the celebration is all about. He doesn’t understand his brothers’ remorse, his fathers’ rejoice.

They did not celebrate the achievements of the prodigal son; he did time of anguish and hard work, sharing husks with the swine; he knew he was not worthy of a grand celebration. He was full of remorse. The prodigal son had humility and expected nothing of his father; wishing merely to be a hired servant. He did not put himself above his brother; he came home to stay, to repent: This was not a celebration for the moment, they where celebrating the penance. Previously, he was living a life of the dead. Staying in his father’s house was the road to life. He was lost, but now he was found.

 

The Lord is my shepherd, he is my Father who brought me to life. He carried me home. I must try to live accordingly. I must be humble. The trust he has put in me is a demanding trust. This is the penance of the lamb.

 

 

 

The Good Shepherd

 

 

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