he will gather the lambs in his arms,and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Walter Brueggemann also tells us that the metaphor of God as Shepherd finds its most important usage in the texts that reflect the Babylonian Captivity, the exile. You will recall that the prophets recall that Israel’s idolatry and injustice lead to the downfall of their nation, and the captivity of the people in a foreign land and culture. It was in period of time that the metaphor of God the shepherd made its most vital appearance in the worshipping lives of Israel. Although they were lost, God would find them. Like in Egypt, although oppressed, they would be rescued. Although the past held regret and failure, God the Shepherd would lead them to a bright future.
‘He will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom...‘ encourages us to allow ‘The Lord is my Shepherd‘ to be a vehicle for our pain and pathos. As we will see as we work our way through the 23rd Psalm, it, like the Lord’s Prayer, are not meant to give us hope that life will not be, sometimes hard, especially the life of faith, in which turning toward the Kingdom means standing in solidarity with the least, the lost and even the hated. Instead, they are meant to remind us of the call of discipleship in concrete actions and the promise of help and strength to those who remain faithful in trying circumstances, to those who choose willingly the way of the cross.
Having said this, the way of the cross sometimes leaves us feeling exiled. The theologian Frederick Herzog has commented, ‘the discovery of the presence of God where the pain is, is impressed on us by the biblical story. What a shocking realization, what an earth shaking and faith shattering revelation. To know the presence of God is to join those in pain, to join them in pain. In order to have faith, faith must be shattered! This is the aspect of American Christianity that it is most vitally important for us to dispense with, to deconstruct, to destroy, that faith allows us to avoid suffering, and brings success and happiness as defined by the world.
And yet, exile of this nature is painful. To be drawn along the path of the cross, to leave behind the idols that have seemed so effective, to see with open eyes the cultural myths we thought were true and which we trusted, in all their falsity, to have relationships sundered, to loose the esteem of friends for the sake of the Christ who sojourned among the least, is indeed a painful undertaking. Israel had the courage to proclaim that the scattered would be gathered, that the fallen would be lifted up and carried. Which is to say what Jesus said, ‘those who lose their lives will find it.‘