1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
3He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."
3So he told them this parable: 4 "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
1"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." 6This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father."
The image of the shepherd is one of the master metaphors of Scripture. One of the principal ways in which God depicts himself. And this technique raises several questions:
1. When we read or hear the 23rd Psalm, when we read or hear Jesus tell a story about himself, using this type of imagery, what should we be doing? It’s only natural to mentally picture what is being depicted. That’s part of the appeal of storytelling. And that’s why Scripture uses so many vivid, concrete metaphors. It’s often important to visualize the truth.
When we read or hear a Bible story like this, to what extent should we involve ourselves in the story? Should we immerse ourselves in the fictitious landscape? Should we fully participate in the various dimensions of the story? See the story in our mind’s eye?
Or should we consciously suppress our imagination? Avoid any mental images? Make of point of not thinking about what a shepherd looks like. Or the sheep. Or the rod and staff. Or the wolf. Or the streams. Or the green pastures. Should we blank that out?
Abstract away all of the colorful imagery, and only allow bare ideas to enter our mind?
2. Is there a principled difference between a mental image and an extramental image? Suppose an artist draws a picture of Jesus as a shepherd, leaving the behind flock to find a lost sheep. His pictorial representation of Jesus is modeled on Jesus’ self-representation.
3. Apropos (2), what makes this representational is not that it corresponds to Jesus’ appearance, but that it corresponds to Jesus’ metaphor.
In that respect, it doesn’t turn on the Incarnation, per se. Rather, it depicts a divine self-depiction.
Is that idolatry in the biblical sense of the term? Is that comparable to visual depictions of, say, the Egyptian pantheon?
No. An artistic depiction of Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep is like Jesus because the metaphor is like Jesus. Jesus likens himself to that metaphor (among others). That makes it a true likeness of Jesus, in that figurative role. And that’s a way in which Jesus reveals himself to us. That's divine pedagogy.
By contrast, pagan idols are unlike God. They misrepresent the true God.