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Posts Tagged ‘shepherd’

John 10:1-18
The popular metaphor of the shepherd, the gate, and the sheep: what does it speak to the believer, to the reader?

sheepIt’s a simple but powerful edict: listen, understand, and follow. It has three parts that work together as one. I must listen, to understand and I must understand, to follow, or at the least, to avoid following blindly. Jesus never asks us to follow blindly. Perhaps the way may appear dark and even fearsome, but God promises to go ahead of us, to lead, and therefore, we are asked to trust.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. [vs 3 & 4]

Note that we come out of the pen first and gather together and wait for the shepherd to finish the work of calling out his own, those that recognize the voice. Do I recognize the voice of Christ? It is a nagging question. And yet, I am still here. I am still a follower. I still trust God’s Presence. But I also know that I can hamper my own progress when I don’t “practice the presence” of God, when I don’t still my mind in meditation, when I don’t listen. It’s not that I will fall down or go over a cliff, but the way could be smoother if I would spend more time in prayer and stillness.

What do I know about the Shepherd or the sheep? The shepherd is different from the sheep. He knows the ways of sheep; he knows what sheep eat and need to survive; he knows how to protect them. He is an expert on sheep. But sheep still see the Shepherd as other. In fact, most sheep probably see other sheep as other. Sheep are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, as they say. More facts about sheep: they have good hearing and are sensitive to noises, they have good peripheral vision, they have poor depth perception, they prefer light over dark places, they have an excellent sense of smell, they are “flock” animals and very gregarious, they do not do well separated from the flock, and sheep, by their nature, tend to follow a leader (whether a strong sheep or a shepherd).

Sheep need other sheep. Sheep need a Shepherd. I think I sometimes think I can go against this basic; I imagine I can go it alone or I imagine I don’t need that Shepherd. Experience has shown otherwise. But I can still stumble along.

Sheep do have long-term facial recognition. So, that means, they can know their Shepherd. But it takes time. And effort.

Intellectually, I know this metaphor can break down here and there. After all, the Christ Presence is ultimate patience. God in Christ is unrelenting in love. The question is whether I can be taught? What is the best way to learn from this face, this voice, this Shepherd?

Repetition of contact. Learn the commands, the basics. Listen. And be gregarious with other sheep. Sometimes, we may need to follow the flock who hear better than we do.

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shepherdsHow many of us know a shepherd. Honestly? At best I may have met a 4-H person at the Farm Fair. Oh, and one of my library colleagues used to raise a few sheep for the wool which she sheared and spun and created beautiful things. But she wasn’t exactly Little Bo Peep. And although nativity story shepherds have been romanticized, the truth is they were on some of the lowest rungs of the ladder. They were a necessity for the economy, the protection of the sheep, but their jobs were B-O-R-I-N-G. In modern day, I might compare them to a rent-a-cop on the graveyard shift of a storage unit.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. . . . When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. [Luke 2:8-9, 15-16, NIV]

I’ll look into angels tomorrow but for now, let’s look at shepherds. Back in the day, the shepherd metaphor was a good one. The Greek word poimēn word means herdsman or shepherd, but even then, it was seen metaphorically, the one who watches over the flock, the one who protects the herd from outside danger, the one who seeks for lost ones, the one who heals the sick. For these reasons, many have compared shepherds to pastors in a church. And certainly, even Jesus himself, allowed this comparison [John 10:14-16].

What’s funny about shepherds to me is that despite their humble station, the critters they guarded appeared to be quite stupid and over the years, and this has stuck. Despite some contrary information in recent years about sheep being able to recognize faces of other sheep and human caretakers, build relationships, and possibly know how to eat certain plants to make themselves feel better. But mostly, we find sheep to have such a strong flocking instinct and “follower” genes that they will do themselves harm based on who they follow. That metaphor has never been complimentary to the church or people who follow leaders blindly.

But no matter how much we imagine this shepherd/flock relationship, it’s not really in our modern ken or culture. We don’t have a modern counterpart to the stinky, smelly sheep workers who were more comfortable alone with their animals than they were with other people. They were undoubtedly loners and nomadic by nature. They often endured taunts for unappealing acts with their ewes. Was it true? I really don’t know. And yet, these most lowly of men were, according to the story, visited by angels in such a large number that many shepherds (scattered over the fields) saw the spectacle and responded.

It is so often the case that the poor and “least of these” type folks get the message. They have nothing to lose, having little to begin with. The grassroots campaign for the Christ began with them. Come see–go tell. The Messiah has come.

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