i have to admit that i love it when i get to preach on shepherds. they were one of my favorite things to watch in my time in jerusalem. and i love animals (that’s such a girl thing to say, but it’s true). so i’ve always enjoyed watching sheep and shepherds make their way through the world. i’m told that sheep herding, or herding in general, varies from place to place. but the way i saw it is the way i imagine it to be (the way it OUGHT to be everywhere).
watching shepherds and their sheep move, you notice that the shepherd does not move out front or stay in the back, but rather walks in the midst of the sheep. every so often, a sheep will come up to its shepherd and nuzzle a little bit, baa a bit, and then move on its way with its friends. i suppose the shepherd sets the pace, but really, if s/he’s walking in the midst of them, i have to wonder. perhaps it is the sheep that set the pace and the shepherd goes with them, as they are able.
jesus says: very truly, i tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.** i’m struck by that word. it’s the same word he uses in the garden of gethsemane when they come to take him away. it translates as robber, bandit or terrorist. (i wrote about this before. you can see the post here.) i must admit i struggle with this passage, trying to figure out what it is that he is driving at.
theologian john shea writes: thieves are people who steel by craft and deceit. robbers steel with violence. both steel. shea goes on to say that whereas thieves and robbers take things away, the Good Shepherd adds.
so how does all this pertain to the christian life? i think of certain televangelists, for example, who, in my opinion, steel the gospel and market it towards their own agenda–either making jesus the great condemner of all humans who don’t fit their mold or, in contrast, making jesus the great scratch-off-lottery ticket: “believe in him and you’ll be rich!!” both of these extremes take the gospel message–such as the great command to love one another as i have loved you–and it steels its power away. it robs the gospel of its truth.
the christian life doesn’t promise life without sorrow or pain or loss. rather it offers something that sustains and moves, like the shepherd himself, with us through the world. as sheep, we’re called to go out into the world like lambs in the midst of wolves. there’s no magic guarantee that the wolves won’t come after us–in fact, its likely that they will. and still it is into the world, and often into danger that we are called to go. the difference is that the shepherd walks with us. the shepherd goes with us out into the pasture and into danger. how we fend in the pasture and in the world, depends on the voice that we follow.