Sunday, July 22, 2018

Like Sheep Without A Shepherd

Sunday: 22 July, 2018 –– 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 23:1–6 / Ephesians 2:13–18 / Mark 6:30–34
Like Sheep Without A Shepherd (or just dumb chickens)

Jeremiah has been called “the weeping prophet” and he had plenty of reasons to weep. One of the worst was “bad shepherds” ––religious leaders who were supposed to guide the people in right ways, but instead used their position selfishly. They even turned people away from God because they were doing evil in the name of God. We can look around and see that our world isn’t really so different from Jeremiah’s. And like Jeremiah’s day we still need good spiritual leaders.

God promises to provide good shepherds. The Twenty-third Psalm affirms the Lord’s provision. Today’s Gospel has one of the most tender images of Jesus as God-with-us: his heart was moved with pity for [the people], for they were like sheep without a shepherd....

One way to express the Good News of Christian Faith is this: God wants to be your Shepherd. This is foundational. This is basic. This is the Good News.  God wants to be your Shepherd.

Many people do not see a need for God to be personally involved in their lives. It is human nature to want to be self-sufficient and independent. We live in such a comfortable and convenience-filled society that we can assume too much. Part of our sinfulness is holding to a pride that does not want to admit we need help. We want to justify ourselves; we can think “I’m as good as most people, and better than many. I do okay for myself.”

I have a friend who once had a job of taking care of chickens. One of the reasons the Bible uses sheep as a metaphor for our relationship with God is that sheep can be so helpless and, in all honesty, quite dumb. Well, chickens are worse. My friend was reflecting on this and wrote some of her observations. Listen to what she says:  

Lately I have been seeing people through the eyes of taking care of chickens. They bully each other, they pick on each other and sometimes are just not nice to each other at all. And here I am as their caretaker, wishing that they would stop their bickering and hurtfulness, knowing that they are well provided for and there is no need for the strained relations. Of course, they don't hear my thoughts and go about their meanness, and I think of how we often behave so much like chickens while God offers us something better.

When I enter the pen most of them run off nervously, assuming that I am out to do them harm. I've been with them day in and day out since last October and have not hurt any of them ever, and yet they still run or freeze in fear when I am near them.  On the other hand, if I come with a bucket in hand they automatically assume I have something tasty for them and they'll swarm over to me, but not to see me––just to get what they assume I have to offer them, grab it and run off with it.  How like chickens we are––afraid of knowing the God who only wants what is best for us, approaching him only for the gifts he bestows, and then going our own ways.  

One evening, one of the chickens I had raised from the time they were chicks was out of her chicken yard, running around, seemingly concerned about getting back to her friends but not figuring out how. It took my husband and me quite a while to get her back into her own yard. So here again was a perfect, visible example of how much we can be like chickens when it comes to trusting Jesus. All we wanted to do was to return that poor, confused, agitated chicken to where she really wanted to be, but in her fear and stubbornness, she fought us every step of the way. Our patient perseverance finally paid off and she ran in the gate to join her flock, but how much easier on all of us it would have been if she had been able to assume that we knew what we were doing and wanted the best for her. The longer I live in this role as chicken keeper, the more I am coming to know God as a parent and savior and shepherd––and seeing in us the same foolish behavior as in chickens.

Can you see that we need a Good Shepherd? In today’s Gospel Jesus has pity on us and loves us because, without him, we are sheep without a shepherd.... like chickens, running around on our own.  We need a Good Shepherd. Jesus invites us to follow him.

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