The readings for Sunday, April 26, 2015:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. (Ps. 23:1)
1 John 3:16-24
Here's another familiar set of images in today's Gospel, ones that are so familiar that we neglect to see the strangeness. But read the passage again and notice how many times Jesus says he's the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. At first, knowing the outcome of Jesus' life story as we do, we might find that a comforting thought.
But imagine that you're a little lamb with a scary wolf nearby. Maybe the good shepherd kills the wolf while laying down his life for you. But does that leave you protected from the other wolves that are out there? No. A dead shepherd is no use for further protection. We don't raise much in the way of livestock these days (most of us), so we forget how strange this metaphor would have seemed to an audience of people who knew shepherds (and thanks to Pastor Jan Setzler, who led Bible Study at the excellent Lutheridge Create in Me retreat several years ago, who pointed out the oddness in this metaphor--the first time I'd ever thought about that angle).
The people of Jesus’ time who heard him speak in this mystical way would have been more puzzled than comforted. I suspect that would have been their usual reaction to him. His parables are familiar to us, so we’ve lost sight of their strangeness. Two thousand years ago, people would have said, “What good is a dead shepherd?”
They might have been more like me. I want a shepherd who will remind me to come out of the rain. I want a shepherd who will tilt my head back down so that I don’t drown in the rain because I’m too stupid not to inhale the rain. I want a shepherd who will gather the flock together and kill the predators with a skillful shot from a sling. I want a shepherd who leads us to safe pastures.
And the good news of the Gospels is that we have such a shepherd.
These verses serve to remind us that the world we live in is a scary one. You may think you can make it on your own, but you can't. Notice that Jesus doesn't compare us to cats or horses--no, we're sheep, some of the dumbest animals ever domesticated. You may be able to make it on your own up to a point--but where will that point be?
No, we need the safety of the flock, the safety of a shepherd. We need someone who will train us to recognize his voice. Now if we could only slow down and quiet our minds enough to hear our shepherd’s voice.
feeling the feelings…
4 months ago