.

My count of sheep was off as twilight fell
And father’s friend, Ben Ezra’s lamb was gone!
I had to find her! Searching past the well
I climbed the rocks exhausted but pressed on.
Delay could mean her life! She’d failed to heed
My shepherd’s call and so risked being killed!
Some wild beast might capture her and feed.
I could not let her unstained blood be spilled!

Great danger filled that dark and craggy hill.
My fear was deep! And then my torch went dim!
Oh, why did I avoid my father’s will
To one day be a carpenter like him?
Because my father’s friend was gravely ill.
I loved his sheep, so father made a plan
For me to herd them just one year until
I’m old enough to be declared a man.

I found the frightened lamb inside a cave
Cornered by a wolf of knife-sharp claw.
The fiercest wolf I’ve seen! How could I save
This little sheep? I thrust my staff to draw
Away the beast. He snarled, bit my wrist
And mauled my side. In agony, I heard
The wolf’s attack, too wounded to resist.
But then, thank God, a miracle occurred!

I closed my eyes and with a trembling voice
Said “Help me, father!” And the fierce wolf froze!
He yelped, then fled as if he had no choice!
I clutched the lamb and wept till the sun rose.
Still shaking I then rose up on my feet.
I kissed the lamb and said don’t be afraid
For now you’re safe. She cried a grateful bleat.
She knew I’d saved her and the price I paid.

My parents say I may no longer herd
And must devote my life to nails and wood;
But angels fill my dreams and leave me stirred
To try to be a shepherd—one who’s good—
Who shields his sheep from wickedness and strife.
I love them all, the good ones and the lost;
I’ll fear no evil that might take my life,
For I think their salvation’s worth the cost.

.

.

Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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27 Responses

  1. Tonia Kalouria

    This should be shared also by Pastors to their flocks.

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth

    I echo what Tonia has said above. What a truly, deeply, heavenly poem!

    Reply
  3. Julian D. Woodruff

    Love, fear, commitment, vulnerability, sacrifice. Hallelujah, Brian!

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      I love your comment! It’s almost Pentecost so… Hallelujah indeed! Thank you, Julian.

      Reply
  4. Sally Cook

    Brian –
    A lovely small parable, full of good things! Thank you, Brian.

    Reply
  5. Margaret Coats

    This looks very much like a tale of Jesus’ hidden life. I take it the boy is eleven years old, with bar mitzvah (or the equivalent at the time) still approaching. The language and psychology seem to reflect that age–deep stirrings of responsibility and altruism, still mixed with childish concerns and impulsiveness. There is everything depicting real humanness–yet nothing contrary to incarnate divinity. This is quite a triumph of characterization, because the orthodox answer to the question “When did Jesus know He was God?” is, “From the first moment of His conception.” References to parents simply acknowledge the outlook Jesus as a human being, living an earthly life, must have had for thirty years. Even the call to His father, that leads to the miracle worked by His Father in heaven, seems perfectly natural, followed up as it is by the human release of traumatic stress while the boy clutches the lamb and cries all night.

    I’m wondering if you have heard of your medieval predecessor, Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, who wrote a slim book called, On Jesus at Twelve Years Old. I haven’t read it since my thirty-year-old son was twelve, and I don’t recall that Aelred wrote much (if anything) with Jesus speaking in the first person. Yours is a remarkable story!

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      Margaret, thank you for your kind words and your discussion of Jesus as a boy. No, I’ve never heard of Saint Aelred, but his book sounds really fascinating. I’d like to read it.

      I’m very, very pleased that you like my characterization of Jesus. He’s 12 years old in this poem because he’ll be “declared a man” in his bar mitzvah ceremony upon his 13th birthday. And I’m very glad you got the “father”/ “Father” issue (when young Jesus says “help me, father”) because I wanted his request for help it to foreshadow — unknown to the boy Jesus — what he will later say to Peter in Matthew upon his arrest at Gethsemane — “do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?”

      I tried to use a 12 year old’s vocabulary and I tried to allow young Jesus to be innocent of the implications of prophecies regarding his destiny — the way young Jesus is told that his life must be devoted “to nails and wood” for example. Or when he says “I will fear no evil…” (innocently echoing the 23rd Psalm.)

      Ultimately, I’m hoping that the innocence of the sweet boy who loves sheep contrasts in a bittersweet way with the way we know things will ultimately happen. And although there will be pain, I want it clear from the start that Jesus knows in His heart that it would be worth it.

      Thank you again for your critique. I so appreciate your insights!

      Reply
    • Jeff Kemper

      On the “when did Jesus know…”: Sin is THE human condition that people these days have sadly graduated from. Jesus, “without sin” (He 4:15), must have known he was starkly different from other kids as soon as he witnessed sin in them yet not in himself. I cannot possibly imagine what that was like! But from conception? I have spent many years studying the Bible but never considered this question because of the Bible’s silence until Jesus’s was 12. But it is an interesting question.

      Reply
      • BRIAN YAPKO

        Interesting point, Jeff. The way I imagine it is that Jesus was indeed without sin — but that for most of his childhood he would have been so humble he wouldn’t have realized it! To a certain point I also think he would have been torn: I think he would have liked to be ” like the other kids since so much of the incarnation is about him experiencing what it is to be human. But on the other hand he was also uncannily wise — as when he engages the rabbis in the Temple as a child. Of course, these are just my speculations.

    • Margaret Coats

      This further comment is for Jeff Kemper and for Brian; I hope it gets posted near where they are considering the question of when Jesus knew He was God. Jeff is quite right that the Bible does not answer this question directly. But it does tell us that Jesus is God, and that God is omniscient. I learned what I know of the topic from a conference where someone asked three very learned priests when Jesus knew He was God. One said that it was “probably” at about the age of reason. The other two clearly corrected this error, explaining that Jesus did not discover He is God from human reasoning. Being the Second Person of the omniscient God, He always knew. What is important about His humanity is that He also became capable of learning whatever human beings learn through education and experience. Thus He certainly had experiences that confirmed some of what He already knew. And these experiences were new to Him. No knowledge was new to Him, but some means of knowledge were. That seems to be why you, Jeff and Brian, are rightly focusing on His human experience. And as these priests pointed out, Jesus rejoiced in new human experience. It was fascinating to Him. This is why His favorite description of Himself is “Son of man.” It was a new identity gained through experience–even though as God He already knew more about humankind than any human being will ever know. The human capacity for knowledge is of course very limited at the moment of conception, but God incarnate, even at that stage, possesses means of knowledge we cannot imagine.

      Reply
      • BRIAN YAPKO

        Thank you, Margaret and Jeff. These are very profound issues which go to the very heart of the nature of Christ. As you point out, Margaret, the human capacity for knowledge is limited. What we talk about can never be understood by logical means. But we can grasp that as God incarnate no mysteries were kept from Jesus. Like you and your priests, what fascinates me, though, is his human experience. He is suddenly injected into history and therefore suddenly subject to Time. What can that mean to him? For one thing, I think that he voluntarily undergoes the human experience of aging mentally from an innocent child to maturity, which means learning and experience over time. Otherwise, what’s the point of the 30 year delay between birth and ministry? I like what your priests said very much — the idea that all of this knowledge — omniscience, actually — is in him but he prefers to reacquire it and experience it as a human. Now I’ll always think of these ideas when I read or hear the phrase “Son of man.” But as you say… “knowledge we cannot imagine.”

      • Margaret Coats

        Another reason for the 30 years preceding the ministry, I would say, is simply to enjoy life. Unlike ourselves, Jesus knew exactly how much time He had, and I’m sure He made the most of it.

  6. C.B. Anderson

    Strike the apostrophe in “’till,” (stanza 4, line 4). “Till” all by itself means “until.” “Till” with an apostrophe in front of it means nothing, but implies a shortening of “untill,” which isn’t a word.

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      Ah! Quite right. Thank you, C.B. I will write a note to Mike.

      Reply
  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, I love ‘The Good Shepherd’ with all its references, allusions, and story-telling splendor. It reminds me of my childhood… curled up under the duvet with a torch reading my illustrated Bible for children and reveling in the wonder of the words and messages. Your poem harks back to a time of love, beauty, care, duty, simplicity and morality… by ‘simplicity’ I mean that the differences between right and wrong, good and evil, were clearly defined and ingrained.

    Your Bible revival poetry (so sorry, I couldn’t resist) is accessible, timely, engaging, and meant for a much larger audience. Very well done, indeed!

    Reply
    • BRIAN YAPKO

      Thank you, Susan! “Bible-revival…” I love it! Yes, the Bible interests me greatly and I love exploring it poetically, so I’m delighted to borrow your term for my poetic subject matter! And I could not agree more about simplicity, which I think of in terms of moral clarity. Good and evil exist and I think acknowledging that this is the case and promoting truth and morality is the right thing to do. Always.

      Reply

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