This Sunday’s appointed text is the familiar gospel text about Jesus being the good shepherd.
It reminds us that we have one looking out for us who will do whatever it takes—even to the very point of laying down his life and taking it up again—to ensure our safety. And the “our” is a broad “our” including those that do not yet belong to the fold. Thanks be to God.
11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."
Just some rhetorical questions…
• Do you treat your rental cars as carefully as you would your brand new car you were driving home from the dealership on purchase day?
• Are you as diligent about turning off extra lights at the hotel as when it is courtesy of your power bill at home?
• Would it surprise you to learn that some people, while in the process of being evicted, pour cement down the drains of the house that once was theirs?
• Are you as mindful about portion control and not wasting food at home as you are at the all-you-can-eat buffet?
• Would you treat your workplace differently as the owner as compared to the minimum-wage earning hireling?
We treat things differently when we regard them as ours in contrast to when we are putting in the time minding someone else’s stuff.
Consider watching sheep. Sheep aren’t always the best at self-care. They can wander away from the fold one bite of food at a time until they are exposed to elements, dangerous surroundings and hungry predators. When we are compared to sheep by Jesus it isn’t always the most flattering reference.
In order to protect sheep someone needs to stay with them – to look out for predators, to guide them back to the fold, to get them to proper food and water, to gather them and help them live safely and be well tended.
There are really a couple of options:
OPTION 1: The sheep owner can hire someone to take care of tending the sheep. If one wanders off towards the predators the hireling might not want to be troubled or endangered. If one gets lost the hireling might rationalize that it’s better to look after the 99% and practice some sort of “Occupy Sheepfold”. When it comes to watering and feeding the flock the hireling might cut corners, add fillers, save time at the expense of the health of the flock. Bottom line: The hireling doesn’t have nearly the incentive to care for the sheep—when danger comes the hireling may well flee.
OPTION 2: The sheep owner can take care of the sheep. If one wanders off into dangerous territory the owner may well risk it to save the 1% from danger. When it is your prized possession or your profits or your reputation on the line every sheep matters. It seems crazy to the hireling but makes perfect sense to the loving shepherd. When it comes to feeding one’s own sheep nothing but the best. Forget foul water and filler-filled by-products—the sheep would get bread and wine, cleansing water and any other manner of gracious gift. When you know the sheep by name and they know you then you will do whatever is required – even unto laying down your life. Bottom line: The good shepherd lays claim to the sheep – nothing can separate them from the love of their shepherd – NOTHING!
God (aka Jesus aka the Good Shepherd) loves us – to the point that there is nothing God won’t face to claim us, save us, cleanse us and draw us into a joyful and abundant life. It doesn’t stop with us. God chases after sheep that are not yet part of the fold. When God sees us God does not see rental cars and foreclosed upon houses and hotel lighting and squanderable all-you-can-eat buffets and very disgruntled part-time, underpaid labor forces. When God sees us God sees ones made in God’s image. God sees invaluable treasures, wandering but deeply loved sheep and ones worthy of making the ultimate sacrifice in order to save.
God thank you for claiming us. Thank you for chasing away predators, drawing us all others deeper into the fold, feeding us with body and blood, cleansing us, drawing us into community and teaching us to live in joyful abundance. Help us see ourselves and others as you do. Forgive our hireling ways and shape us to be sheep dogs bringing glory to the Good Shepherd. Amen.