John’s gospel, the psalm reading, and Peter’s epistle all use the image of the Messiah as a shepherd and us as sheep.
Going with that, what image pops into your mind? Do you see a picture kind of like some we’ve seen before with Jesus dressed in white with a lamb on his shoulders and maybe one or two at his feet? Or maybe you get an image of Jesus sitting on a rock with his disciples all seated around him listening intently to his every word. Everything is peaceful and serene.
Knowing what you do about sheep and shepherds and maybe even thinking back to 1st century Jerusalem do you think that’s really what shepherds look like? Do you really think everything is all peaceful and quiet around the shepherd and his flock?
Maybe you do but I don’t. The reason being is that I’ve had a flock of sheep and lambs. There was seldom peace and quiet. I certainly didn’t wear white when I was working with lambs and ewes.
Think about a shepherd in Jesus’ time. Think about how much they had to know and what resources they had available to them to care for and protect their flocks.
Roddy Hamilton in his Spill the Beans blog said that Nancy Rockwell suggested that Jesus is more like a cowboy than a shepherd. Think about what a cowboy does with the herd as he takes them up to the mountain pastures, tends and cares for them while they’re there, and then brings them back to the valley for the winter and the spring calving season. Think about all the skills and knowledge a cowboy needs to do all that.
Doesn’t a shepherd do the same thing? Even though the sheep are smaller in stature the shepherd still needs to tend, care for and protect his flock. He is always on the watch for a sick or injured sheep. He has to pay attention to the weather and the signs in the sky and the surrounding environment so he knows when storms are coming and he needs to get them all to shelter. A cowboy does all that too.
Now think about the task Jesus had with the disciples and with us today. The disciples and his flock today certainly require a lot more skill to care for and manage than you or I possess. Don’t you think it’d take more of a cowboy mentality than a kind and gentle shepherd mentality to tend for and care for a flock like us today?
When I think about the things I’ve done in my life I’m convinced that Jesus had his hands full at times. It’s a wonder to me that he never gave up on me. Shoot, it’s a wonder my parents didn’t just toss in the towel sometimes.
Humanity being what it is needs a god with good sense, a tough exterior, a love for humanity that can’t be swayed, and patience beyond anything we can imagine. In other words humanity needs a god like our God, willing to do whatever it takes to bring us back to Him. Our God needs to be able to go out on a limb for us; he needs to be able to love and forgive us when we’ve failed him for the umpteenth time.
We can hardly get our minds around what it must take for God to put up with our shenanigans day after day, year after year. If we were in charge we’d have given up on us a long time ago.
Before we get all puffed up and proud because God has chosen us let’s not forget how many times we’ve tried and failed to live like Jesus. We’re not any better than those Pharisees Jesus called ‘thieves and robbers.’
Take a minute to think about how much we’ve been blessed with the last couple years, our crop yields, our gifts from members who’ve left some of their estates for us to use. Now think about how many are struggling in the world to find enough to eat, let alone find some shelter from the extremes of the environment. What have we done to alleviate their pain and suffering? How much have we given of our time and gifts to make sure they have something to eat, warm clothes to wear, and a roof over their heads?
We’re not very good at being shepherds for those folks who need a shepherd. So, why does God still call us? Doesn’t it make you wonder?
I’ve probably passed more panhandlers than I’ve stopped to help. When I have stopped it’s usually with cash, probably not what they really need. If you’re like me you don’t want to stop and give them any of your precious time. Maybe you have and you just don’t want to hear another hard luck story.
Jesus, did take the time, many times. Imagine how many stories he listened to. Imagine how many dirty bodies he sat beside; imagine how many he touched…and healed.
No, we’re not very good at shepherding. We need God and the forgiveness that comes to us from Jesus. We need the Holy Spirit to continually remind us, to continually convict us of our sin and failure to care for those God places before us every day.
We need to get down on our knees and ask for forgiveness for those times we’ve failed him, let him down, and just plain ignored his voice in our hearts begging us to give to that guy hitchhiking down the Interstate 80 or the traveler who stops and needs gas to get on down the road to wherever it is they’re going.
We need to pray that God forgives us and then ask for the courage to trust him to take a risk and help someone we probably wouldn’t have helped last week.
We need a Good Cowboy Shepherd to lead us, to save us from ourselves and the world. Thanks be to God he loves us unconditionally and grants us his grace again and again. Amen.