Monday, May 9, 2011

Sheep: Easter 4A

Link This Week's Lectionary Text

This Week's Reflection
I don't know a lot about sheep. People tell me that they are dumb. But those folks who tell me that don't really know anything about sheep either. I think it is the flock mentality that makes us believe they are dumb. We rugged, autonomous, individualistic Americans can't begin to understand why any living creature would follow the crowd the way that sheep seem to do. Because, of course, we know nothing about such behavior.

I don't know a lot about sheep, so I looked them up on Wikipedia and found that "In regions where sheep have no natural predators, none of the native breeds of sheep exhibit strong flocking behavior." Doesn't sound so dumb to me. They stick together to protect one another from anyone or anything that may be attempting to harm even one of the flock. I also read that sheep have the ability to remember faces, not only faces of other sheep, but all faces, for years and years. In other words, they protect each other and they do not forget the shepherd they follow.

This week's lectionary points us toward that well known image of Jesus as The Good Shepherd, an image that seems to make so much sense to us, but that most Americans know little about. When is the last time you were called out to the field to get the sheep back in the pasture?Luckily, if we are confused by the image of Jesus as The Good Shepherd, we are in good company. It says right in the gospel of John that the first disciples to hear his analogy didn't get it either.

So, he spelled it out for them as clearly as he could. In the NRSV, starting in the midst of verse 7, it reads, "I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

Oops, wait a minute, that doesn't say he is The Good Shepherd! What is all this gate business? How are preachers supposed to reconcile Psalm 23 and the words of 1 Peter 2:25, "For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls" with Jesus comparing himself to a gate? (This is why literal interpretation of scriptures gets us into trouble!)

Here is what I think. I think that Jesus came to this earth to lead us in The Way. That Way is taking care of each other like sheep do. He calls to us to listen for his voice, to follow his lead, but in the meantime, we better be bunched up together in that big old field so that we can protect each other when times get hard or predators lurk in the night. And, when it all boils down - how many metaphors will fit into one blog entry? - Jesus is not only the leader, but THE WAY.

My brain can't comprehend it. I'm dumb like a sheep, but thank God I remember the face of Jesus and I huddle in the mass known as the Body of Christ - another metaphor, yay! - and that is what protects me and keeps me safe when things get really hard.

He is The Good Shepherd and he is the gate. He is our leader. He is our way.

This Week's Art
In order of appearance in the Reflection: