Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sheep? Who you calling a sheep?

Last week’s sheep image in John’s gospel makes me want to pummel my pillow. Not the way Jesus uses the image, but the way people interpret it. Or maybe I should say, “misinterpret” it. We focus on sheep being dumb animals, and say that we’re dumb like sheep and that we need God for everything.

I don’t think that’s what Jesus is saying. In fact, I think such talk is against what God has made in us, and is doing in us. God given us brains with which to think. To say that we’re “dumb like sheep” lets us off the hook too easily. It’s saying that we can dump our grey matter in the garbage and let God do everything for us.

I think Jesus used the image of the sheep and shepherd was because his followers were frightened. They knew they were far from God and didn’t know how to get back. There weren’t getting enough help from the religious leaders, many of whom seemed to care more about their houses in the ‘burbs than in sharing God’s love with scared and hurting people.

So Jesus called himself the GOOD shepherd, meaning that he gently leads those under his care, rather than beating them into submission, like the BAD shepherds - the hired hands (religious leaders?) - who failed to protect the sheep.

He is the shepherd who guides. Who lovingly corrects. Who leads by love rather than force. Who talks words of kindness to the sheep that they know who speaks to them.

I think, us shepherds in the church, those who take on leadership roles (and really, who in the church ISN’T a leader?) forget Jesus’ kindness and gentleness when leading God’s people. We often focus on manipulating process rather than listening, preaching rather than praying, forcing rather than guiding.

At least that’s true for me. There are times when I get so caught up in trying to make things happen that I forget that it’s flesh and blood humanity that God really cares about.

So, if there’s a take way for me from this passage, it’s to remember my own need for a shepherd and to minister out of that need, to remember that we’re all in this together, that we all need loving guidance, love, compassion, and grace.

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