Thursday, February 18, 2021

My Sheep

“My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them …”

“I know them.”

It’s funny … wouldn’t you expect the Lord to have said, “My sheep listen to my voice and they know me”?

That would be parallelism. That would be equivalent. That would speak of our recognition of the Good Shepherd, just as the first part of the verse emphasizes it. We know his voice, and we know him.

But it’s not that.

Shepherd Care

I was listening to a podcast recently, and the speaker recounted his experience of meeting an elderly shepherd. The man was totally uneducated. Not only could he not read or write, he had not even learned numbers.

That’s right: he was a shepherd who couldn’t even count. Think about that.

But the podcaster spoke with awe of how that same shepherd could tell at one glance where all his many sheep were, and if one was missing or out of sight. He could tell without counting … simply by knowing his sheep.

Numbers

Some years ago there was a vogue for church expansion. And one book I recall reading was actually titled More People. Its thesis was that the church had been too skeptical of empirical data about how many people were crossing the threshold of the church building, and ought to be more enthusiastic about numerical success. God loves churches with more people in them, was the idea. Numbers count.

There’s a lot that could be said about this, of course: that numbers do not indicate health, spiritual maturity, faithfulness or truth; that popularity is often a sign of compromise with the world and capitulation to fads, trends and religious entertainments — to say nothing of false teaching, which is also often popular; that at no time in history has it been the majority that has been faithful to God; that a church that asks nothing by way of sacrifice and caters to the flesh is more likely to be superficially popular than one that stands in the midst of persecution and adheres to a gospel that demands repentance … and so on. But let that be.

For the moment, what matters more is this: to number people is not the same as to know them.

Knowing Your Own

I spent many years as a teacher. One of the first tasks I undertook at the start of each new semester was to learn the identities of my students. I made every effort to know at least the first name of each one by the end of the first couple of classes. It was key. Not only was it necessary for purposes of class management, but it also profoundly changed the dynamics between me and my students. For me, it made it possible to start tailoring a teaching strategy to each child, and to tie particular facts to particular people.

But the biggest change was in them. They very quickly became manageable, personable and sociable with me. The minute they realized I knew their names, they knew I was regarding them as individuals — not as members of a herd. It was my way of communicating to them, “I see you. I know you now.” Their attitude to my class changed profoundly, immediately. They became particular people in my class, not a mere class of people. And at the end of the year, they told me that the thing they appreciated most about how I had treated them was how quickly I had learned their names.

Being Known

The Lord knows his sheep. I wonder if he ever even bothers to think of what the raw number of them is. He did promise Abraham more of them than humans could count. He knows everything, so he must. But I suspect that, like the shepherd at the beginning of this post, he just knows each of them so very well that he is never, even for one second, unaware of them as individuals. Indeed, did not the Lord tell us that no one of them could possibly ever be out of his attention, even for a second, or even in a matter of the tiniest concern?

A good shepherd knows his sheep. And our Lord is the very best of shepherds.

Knowing Him Knowing You

He knows you. Never, for one second, does he ever forget you. And he never has to think of you as merely a number, or worse, as one-of-a-number. To the Lord, you are always the individual he knows would be missing if anything ever were to happen to you. And it is against this that he is ever watchful. He never loses one.

To be known like that … to be loved like that. How much greater that is than if we could only say we know him. For yes, we do know him …

But how much more immeasurably important is it that he knows us!

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