The dual metaphor of shepherd and sheep is present throughout the Old Testament: Noah, two-by-two; God leading Abraham—who, in turn, led God’s people; Moses and the Exodus; God inspiring prophets, who inspired people. In Jesus’ story, the image is even more pronounced.

“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”—John 10:11.

He was a shepherd one moment, and sheep the next.

“…Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”—John 1:29.

We are also both shepherd and sheep. We maintain our faith by watching over each other.

Shepherds were the first to spread the word about Christ in the New Testament.

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”—Luke 2:8.

Yes, those shepherds (who shared a vision of an angelic choir and followed a new star) were the first to not only witness his birth, but to tell his story.

“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. / And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. / And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”—Luke 2:16-18.

I see those shepherds as quintessential, a template for ministers. While everyone else slept, they kept watch: patient, humble, their eyes and ears open.

You never know when predators will attack your sheep.

“…I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”—Revelation 3:3.

Since we can’t stay awake all the time, we need to watch over each other, sleep in shifts, so to speak: shepherds one moment, sheep the next.

In the early days of his ministry, between his rejection at Nazareth and the death of John the Baptist, Jesus decided it was time for his apostles to get more involved. We can’t just follow; we have to lead as well.

“And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits.”—Mark 6:7.

As Noah gathered the animals two-by-two, so Jesus sent out his students. The Bible doesn’t say who went with whom. I wonder who accompanied Judas. I love the idea that they went together. Companionship would make the trip safer and not so lonely.

Though the Gospels of Matthew and Luke agreed with each other on the details of this story, Mark offered some exceptions; and John left it out entirely. For example, Mark was the only one to mention how the apostles went off in pairs.

“And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.”—Matthew 10:1.

Where it’s written in Mark that Jesus gave them “power over unclean spirits,” Matthew and Luke added the curing of sickness and disease. Jesus gave them the power to do everything he had done. In that way, one became twelve.

How exciting for a student to become the teacher. And how scary! The call to minister comes out of the blue.

Peter and his brother Andrew got a little warning.

“And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”—Matthew 4:19.

Matthew (the tax collector) got a simple “Follow me.”—Luke 5:27.

The text doesn’t indicate if Jesus said anything at all to the other apostles when he recruited them.

“…he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. / And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.”—Matthew 4:21-22.

If they thought that they could just follow, and not be shepherds themselves, then this assignment must’ve been really scary. But Jesus instructed them.

“…Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. / But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”—Matthew 10:5-6.

In time this would change. The Jewish authorities rejected him, and were conspiring to kill him. So the Gospel would go to the Gentiles. And with parables like “The Good Samaritan,” Christianity would call for a truce between the Jews and the Samaritans.

“And [Peter] said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”—The Acts 10:28.

The lost were a top priority for Jesus.

“For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.”—Matthew 18:11.

Mark and Luke both skipped over that detail. They also missed what is, arguably, the main message of Jesus’ early ministry.

“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 10:7.

Before the New Testament, heaven was a vague concept. Always lower case, its plural form was a synonym for sky or firmament.

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained….”—Psalms 8:3.

In the singular, heaven was where God lived.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.”—Exodus 20:22.

And that’s about all there was to it. Therefore, any preaching about the details of heaven caught everyone’s attention. That was how John the Baptist started.

“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, / And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 3:1-2.

And Jesus too:

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—Matthew 4:17.

It was a daring, new message. After all, God lived in heaven. Jesus told his apostles to preach that God’s kingdom had arrived, which meant God must not be far behind. That’s inspiring, or blasphemous, depending on who you asked.

Next, he told his apostles what they could and couldn’t bring with them as they preached.

“Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, / Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.”—Matthew 10:9-10.

(Scrip was a small shepherd’s pack.)

In Matthew, they weren’t allowed to carry anything, except for one coat. I’m reminded of “The Rich Young Ruler.” Jesus told him to sell everything he owned, give all his money to the poor, and become a disciple. In essence, we are asked to surrender what we think we need, to get what we really need.

Mark was not quite so harsh.

“And commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: / But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.”—Mark 6:8-9.

They got to carry a staff and wear sandals. It’s hard for me to imagine them any other way, but apparently sandals and staves were luxury items. Regardless of the particulars, the imagery is clear.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”—Matthew 16:25.

To do to others as I would have them do to me, I can no longer think in terms of me: spending my time pursuing what I want. I can’t serve both my interests and God’s. My treasure is where my heart is. If my heart cares only for me, then I am all that I will have.

“And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. / And when ye come into an house, salute it. / And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.”—Matthew 10:11-13.

In every new town, they stayed with a different family; but while in that town, they’d sleep and eat with that one family. What a great way to minister! You could talk late into the night, help them with cooking and cleaning. They would be your family, for a while.

While studying this passage, I got into the habit of blessing (praying or wishing kindness and happiness for) every road I drove on, every building I entered, and every sign I saw that I knew others would see. I prayed that everyone who encountered those objects would feel lifted up, that they would discover something new and exciting about their lives.

Everywhere I went, I blessed what was there. I didn’t say anything or make any gestures.

“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: / That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”—Matthew 6:3-4.

God knows our hearts. We don’t pray so much for God, but to feel the connection, the love between us and the world. Prayer anchors us in the moment, which is where love exists. Sin is always in the past or future.

Sometimes, we just can’t reach people: One or both of us could be blind to the connection, deaf to any word of comfort. Maybe it’s not time; maybe I’m not the person to help them; or maybe I need to tend to myself.

“And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.”—Luke 9:5.

I love that saying. It reminds me of baseball, kicking dirt on the umpire. Remember, from “Tell No One,” a minister is not there to convert, but to comfort. If we can’t help, then we must realize and accept God’s will. We have to let go of our desire to save them, wash our hands, and dust off our feet.

We have to be willing, above all else, to let people live as they choose.

In Matthew and Mark, Jesus had more to say about those who rejected his apostles.

“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. / Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”—Matthew 10:14-15.

In these pages, I’ve written about a practical understanding of Judgment Day: a time of self-judgment. We have to come to terms with our actions, even though we know not what we do. When we reject someone who wants to be our shepherd, or refuse to be a sheep or shepherd when the situation calls for it, we have to live with the consequences.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”—Matthew 10:16.

That is such a beautiful verse: the core of Christianity. Jesus (the shepherd) sends out his sheep to gather the lost sheep; and, along the way, his sheep become shepherds for the lost sheep, while remaining harmless against the wolves of the world. The sheep need faith, and the shepherd teaches them.

The reason why it’s so hard to have faith in someone is that we have to make ourselves vulnerable to them. We have to be willing to lay down our lives, to raise theirs out of sin, or make them feel loved. Faith is always a leap with two concerned parties: the one who leaps, and the one who catches them. So, when we leap, we need faith in ourselves, and faith in those who catch us. And we leap all the time.

That’s a lot of faith; it’s exhausting! That’s how and why we sin. We get tired. We have to be ready for whatever our situation asks of us: sheep or shepherd, disciples one moment, teachers the next.

How do I make that call? How do I know when to switch? Better yet, how do I know what to say?

“…take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. / For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.”—Matthew 10:19-20.

A few years ago, I volunteered in a Kindergarten classroom. I didn’t know what to say to such young children. I was afraid that I’d upset them, or talk over their heads and confuse them.

So, every day, I prayed that God would speak for me—or, at the very least, guide my speech, actions, facial expressions, you name it. And they loved me. We had a great time.

The simplest way to know if you’re following God’s will is to love and forgive everyone.

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”—John 13:35.

Before I do something, I (try to) ask myself if I’m showing love, or am I only interested in what I might get out of the exchange. If I’m showing love, then I am doing God’s will.

Sending out the twelve worked so well that Jesus called on an additional seventy disciples to stand up and spread the word.

“After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.”—Luke 10:1.

Vulnerable one moment, protective the next, we love and identify with both extremes because we have been both. When we lift someone, after catching them in their leap of faith, we are lifted in return. Faith happens in pairs, two-by-two. We don’t need to be paid back personally. Joy is what lifts us in return; the rapture of connection causes the singular person to vanish, leaving the pair as one kingdom in a heavenly state.

In this way, the one becomes two, twelve, and seventy. Every life we touch, touches others. How we interact becomes a huge responsibility. Will we comfort or convert? That is, respectively, will we allow God to speak through us, or let our ego be what we choose to pass along to the rest of the world?

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33.

With all the talk of devils and hell, sin and responsibility, we might forget the main reason for the Gospels, which is peace. We have to remind ourselves to live in the moment, to love the moment. Have faith that tomorrow will take care of itself. Being mindful of God helps: Bless and be thankful for everything and everyone. That will keep you in the present, with your eyes and ears open to what the situation calls for: shepherd or sheep, when to dust off your feet, and when to comfort.

It’s your choice, in the end, whether to spread the word or despise the kingdom of heaven that is within. And it’s their choice to hear your words, accept you as a shepherd, or reject you.

“He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.”—Luke 10:16.

By interacting with each other, we pass along a potential for connection that affects more lives than we can imagine. We can choose to share peace of mind through comfort and understanding. Or we can reject the responsibility we have to each other, to ourselves. What we do to our neighbors, we do to God. And whatever we do to God, we do to ourselves.