“Shepherds of Israel,” Ensign, May 1988, 74
I am aware, more than at any other time in my life, of the great responsibility that rests on the shoulders of those who carry out assignments at this pulpit. Nevertheless, I rejoice in the blessing and opportunity that is now mine to add my personal witness regarding the divinity of this great work to which we have been called.
The personal nature of the Lord’s ministry as the Master Shepherd should be the pattern for all who shepherd the flocks of Israel. The depth of His love, His willingness to give freely of Himself, His undeviating loyalty and devotion to the cause shared so completely with His Father, and His constant attention to the needs of the one stand as hallmarks of the true shepherd’s calling.
Some years ago, it was my privilege to visit the country of Morocco as part of an official United States government delegation. As part of that visit, we were invited to travel some distance into the desert to visit some ruins. Five large black limousines moved across the beautiful Moroccan countryside at considerable speed. I was riding in the third limousine, which had lagged some distance behind the second. As we topped the brow of a hill, we noticed that the limousine in front of us had pulled off to the side of the road. As we drew nearer, I sensed that an accident had occurred and suggested to my driver that we stop. The scene before us has remained with me for these many years.
An old shepherd, in the long, flowing robes of the Savior’s day, was standing near the limousine in conversation with the driver. Nearby, I noted a small flock of sheep numbering not more than fifteen or twenty. An accident had occurred. The king’s vehicle had struck and injured one of the sheep belonging to the old shepherd. The driver of the vehicle was explaining to him the law of the land. Because the king’s vehicle had injured one of the sheep belonging to the old shepherd, he was now entitled to one hundred times its value at maturity. However, under the same law, the injured sheep must be slain and the meat divided among the people. My interpreter hastily added, “But the old shepherd will not accept the money. They never do.”
Startled, I asked him why. And he added, “Because of the love he has for each of his sheep.” It was then that I noticed the old shepherd reach down, lift the injured lamb in his arms, and place it in a large pouch on the front of his robe. He kept stroking its head, repeating the same word over and over again. When I asked the meaning of the word, I was informed, “Oh, he is calling it by name. All of his sheep have a name, for he is their shepherd, and the good shepherds know each one of their sheep by name.”
It was as my driver predicted. The money was refused, and the old shepherd with his small flock of sheep, with the injured one tucked safely in the pouch on his robe, disappeared into the beautiful deserts of Morocco.
As we continued our journey toward the ruins, my interpreter shared with me more of the traditions and practices of the shepherds of that land. Each evening at sundown, for example, the shepherds bring their small flocks of sheep to a common enclosure where they are secured against the wolves that roam the deserts of Morocco. A single shepherd then is employed to guard the gate until morning. Then the shepherds come to the enclosure one by one, enter therein, and call forth their sheep—by name. The sheep will not hearken unto the voice of a stranger but will leave the enclosure only in the care of their true shepherd, confident and secure because the shepherd knows their names and they know his voice.
The words of the Master Shepherd rang loudly in my ears:
“But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
“To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
“And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.
“And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers” (John 10:2–5).
My dear brothers and sisters, there are great lessons to be learned from these stirring words of the Master Shepherd. Into our hands, as members of this great Church, has been given responsibility to be the true shepherds unto the flocks of Israel. Do we understand the personal nature of the shepherd’s call? Whether we go as home teachers or visiting teachers, whether we serve as auxiliary leaders or teachers, or priesthood leaders at whatever level, we have received a divine injunction from God, through a living prophet, to become personal shepherds and ministers. No, it is not a new call; it has always been so.
Do we know our sheep, each one, by name? Do they know our voice, or must they hearken unto the voices of strangers? Do they know us as true shepherds who love them, who willingly and freely give time and attention to their needs, and, in that marvelous process, instill the confidence and security so greatly needed in God’s children today? Are we then able to lead them into full activity in the Church and onward to immortality and eternal life? Do we go before them, constantly reassuring and building confidence because they know our voice?
Or are we strangers unto many? I promise you that you will not be a stranger, that you cannot be if you come to know the voice of the Master Shepherd, for that voice will confirm what a prophet has declared, and the Spirit will direct your efforts. And then, and only then, you will become a true shepherd in Israel.
There can be no greater example of the very personal nature of a true shepherd’s call than the events of that Easter weekend nearly two thousand years ago—the depth of the Master Shepherd’s love, His willingness to give freely of Himself, His undeviating loyalty and devotion to the cause, and His constant attention to the needs of the one. Those same qualities must mark our ministries as the shepherds of Israel.
I testify, with all the fervency of my soul, regarding the need we have to be true shepherds and to come to know the personal nature of the true shepherd’s call. As one of His shepherds, I bear witness of the sacred responsibility that has been placed on our shoulders to be true shepherds unto the flocks of Israel and to know the personal nature of that calling. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.