Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Good Shepherd

In the Bible, people are often referred to as sheep. Several analogies and parables speak to the comparisons, intent on helping us understand our relationship with the Shepherd.
Well, in today’s urban society, with little to no knowledge on shepherding, we relate poorly to this analogy. But it isn’t just our cultural situation that impedes us. I think our pride has lots to do with it. Throw it out there that we act like sheep – a.k.a. dumb and blind followers – well, we take it as an insult. And there ends the analogy. We toss it out – baby, bathwater and all. The modern human cannot abide being so thoughtlessly degraded.
But so much can be gained from properly viewing this comparison of people and sheep. If we can lay aside our offenses for a moment – we might just find some insight, and quite possibly comfort and guidance as well. (Imagine that!)
The recent awfulness in CT got me thinking on this – all the questions and outrage over the appearance of evil in such an innocent setting – an elementary school – a kindergarten class no less. Truly horrifying and wrong. And I don’t pretend to know causes or presume to assign blame. I’m not trying to do that here. I’m just saying that it got me thinking.
There are many logical reasons why sheep need a shepherd. I would trade the word ‘dumb’ for ‘sensitive’ and propose that their limited perspective on the world – mainly the tiny patch of grass under their noses - keeps them from seeing clearly or fully. A shepherd stands heads above the flock, and therefore able to see much further and wider and more inclusively.
But it isn’t just the perspective of the sheep that makes them vulnerable. It is their value that requires constant guarding. A nasty, ferocious, determined enemy – usually a lion or wolf – passionately desires to devour as many sheep as possible. This craving is base, violent, and devoid of any moral save that of satiating its bloodlust. He values each sheep based on his consumption.
Unfortunately, a sheep has no resources whatsoever to defend itself from an attack of this nature. None. Zero. By nature, they are absolutely, 100% defenseless. Literal sitting ducks. Without the watchful care of a shepherd, the sheep have no chance of survival, let alone a peaceful life.
Thankfully, the Shepherd also values his flock. They are his prized possessions, his wealth, his livelihood. His desire for each one of them is born from genuine love and a heart-deep responsibility to care for and preserve life. He values his flock so much, he is willing to stand between it and any attacker, even die defending them.
Why, then, would a sheep ever wander from the flock, out from the watchful (not to mention necessary) eye of the Shepherd?
Call it stupid if you want, but I guess there are thousands of reasons. The grass looks better in that other meadow, it isn’t really that far outside the protection of the flock so surely it is close enough to be safe, perhaps lambs have adventurous spirits and simply follow tantalizing scents on the wind… who knows. But they do – they wander. And therefore, expose themselves to unspeakable dangers.
Now, the shepherd values each sheep so highly, and the danger of a solitary sheep far outweighs that of the collective flock, that he will leave the others to find this one wanderer. His grace extends way beyond our comprehension.
Here’s what I’ve never heard of before, though – a wandering sheep, encountering the evils of solitude, in grave danger and in need of rescue – I’ve never heard of that sheep refusing to be rescued when the shepherd shows up. Nor have I heard of the sheep accusing the shepherd of allowing it to wander, or ignoring it, or not coming to the rescue sooner. And I’ve never heard of a sheep encountering a wolf or a lion shouting at the shepherd, “Stay back! I’ve got this! I’m going to conquer this villain on my own!” while the monster gnaws on the sheep’s hind leg.
Nope. You won’t hear of those things happening.
So why do we, as humans, do it? In light of being compared to sheep, why do we think that in our defenseless condition, we can possibly vanquish evil on our own? Only under the care of God’s shepherding hand are we ever to be safe, secure, content, provided for, loved. But we’ve wandered – individually and as a group – away from the shepherd’s watchful eye. We’ve made excuses and chased our own importance in the name of ‘rights’ or ‘freedom’ without regard to His principles and commands that are only there to keep us safe in the first place – safe from what awaits us outside of His holiness.
When will we remember that we are valued beyond imagination – even to the extent that our shepherd, even though we’ve wandered again and again, has and continues to stand between us and our vicious enemy – even unto death.
I’m brimming with much more, but this is already getting too long for one day. I encourage you, though, to think on it and also to read 1Peter. Much of what he says in that letter/book speak to this issue, giving insightful reasons why, in the grand scheme of things, I am proud – overjoyed, really – to be… a sheep.
Are you?
Less than a week until Christmas! Wahoo!