Sunday's Old Testament reading (Ezekiel) is one of the many (483,923.41 to be exact) passages in the Bible with sheep-related imagery. In Old Testament times, God's people were nomads who had settled in lightly-populated rural areas. Examples using shepherds and sheep made sense, because everybody either had sheep or knew somebody who did.
By Jesus' time, things had changed - the social status of shepherds plummeted, it wasn't something nice people did. Shepherding was done on the margins of society by marginal people (often seen as little better than criminals). Leading to conversations in the guidance counselor's office at Jerusalem High School like this one:
Counselor: "Thanks for coming in folks, we've got the results back from your son's career aptitude test. Based on his scores, it looks like he would be well-suited for a career in piracy or grave-robbing, or as a shepherd."
Mom and Dad: "What?!"
Counselor: "On the plus side, you won't have to worry about paying for college..."
When you hear all of the shepherd stuff in Sunday's readings, think of a business or trade on the margins of society. One that requires no formal training and regularly employs ex-cons. It doesn't really fit our quaint image of shepherds, but that is exactly how Jesus wants us to see the God who is doing the search and rescue work.
More on this tomorrow.