Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL
Acts 4, 8-12 + Psalm 118 + 1 John 3, 1-12 + John 10, 11-18
It is very easy to slip into a comfortable, romantic, idealist’s image of a shepherd. Artists through generations have given us paintings of little wooly lambs and the serene face of a bearded and groomed shepherd in a nice white linen robe walking through a field of green grass. You can almost hear violins playing sweetly. Then the familiar verses of Psalm 23 add to that comforting image allowing us to forget that those verses were composed for a people who were oppressed, frightened, threatened, and in grave danger. That image of a Shepherd stirs their memories of the Shepherd King, David and their past days of glory. For a people like us who are in no particular danger, not really much oppressed, or seriously frightened, there is little to do with this message except grow more comfortable and secure enjoying the role of admiring spectator content with images of little wooly lambs and a smiling serene looking shepherd. There is a danger here for us because it leaves us with a serious dis-connect from reality that should motivate us to look more carefully at what is being revealed and proposed by John’s Gospel.
We have for too long lived with this image from the sheep’s point of view, and that dis-connects us from reality. Sheep do not see all the dangers lurking in the wild. They are sheltered from the harshness of the weather, and they are protected from other wolves and vultures that would harm them. They do not have the intelligence to understand or see the disorder and greater danger their natural movements create. If these paintings reflected what is really happening, they would show the chaos, fear, and danger that is really going on. It seems to me that the job of a shepherd in the real scenario is to create what is not there, peace. When Jesus calls himself the “Good Shepherd”, he announces that he will bring what we do not know: peace.
When your children were young you had the responsibility of protecting them from the realities of the world. When they are little they do not need to know about the wars, the poverty, the suffering, and the sin in this place. They need to know love, patience, and comfort. When your children placed their heads on their pillows at night, fear need not be the last thing on their mind even though the world can be a scary place.
The point of this Gospel is not to soothe us into a kind of romantic bliss, but stir us up and leave us to wonder about deeper and troubling things. More children than ours do not know what safety feels like. They do not enter the world with some naïve notion that someone will take care of them and protect them. They do not know the peace of the shepherd because they have never seen one. Think of what it is like for those growing up on the streets of this world, those who hear explosions all day and night in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and even parts of Europe. Consider the orphan who has never had a real hug, or the children who saw their parents murdered before their very eyes. Consider the children in hospitals who suffer from terminal illness and experience lives of constant pain. These are his lambs. They need Jesus. These lambs need real peace; and who will bring to them the Shepherd?
Perhaps we should expand our theological idea of ourselves as the Body of Christ to become the Body of Christ the Shepherd. He leads his flock this very day into places where storms, wolves, and chaos threaten. We who have been with him know how peace feels, and so we can Shepherd these places. Every one of God’s children, every one of his sheep deserves at some point to be the snugged one who waits and calls out to be hugged. We can’t relax and feel really safe and comfortable with this image as long as any one of God’s children lives in fear or danger, or just longs be to held and hugged. Someone must bring them the Shepherd or become the Shepherd.