Jesus said: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 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. (John 10:14-16)
Who wants to be a sheep? Don’t everybody raise your hands. Sheep and shepherds are mentioned quite a bit in the Bible—a fact that may make the scriptures hard to relate to. I’ll never forget a young man who said “Bible stories don’t mean much to me because they are all about farming and WE AREN’T FARMERS!” He has a point. Very few of us are farmers these days, so we know very little about sheep, and what we know doesn’t make us want to identify with them. They don’t seem very smart, or brave, or self-determining. Who wants to be a sheep?
Knowing about sheep seems important to understanding the text about Jesus the Good Shepherd. As I was exploring the text, it dawned to me that there is a farm in town—and I know the farmer! Not only that, I had heard that there were new lambs that had just been born there. I went up to see them and to ask Meg to tell me about sheep. Right off the bat she said: “People think sheep are dumb because they move as a flock. They aren’t dumb. They live a life shaped by their fear. They are afraid of predators. They are vulnerable.”
Do we live lives shaped by our fear? Here in the Boston area we are recovering from a week of fear. It has only been about two weeks since the Marathon bombings and the city-wide lockdown. With the rest of the country, we mourned the dead and injured. We watched on television as agents of law-enforcement in unprecedented numbers went from house to house in a residential neighborhood; we saw all this and wondered if chaos and violence had come to our doorsteps to stay.
Maybe you would be willing to imagine yourself as a sheep following Jesus the Good Shepherd if you saw the flock as a community of safety. There are plenty of wolves out there, no doubt, but Jesus is watching out for us, and bringing us together into one flock—which is as good an image for peace as I can imagine. And maybe, if your fears get to be too much for you, the Good Shepherd will lift you into his arms until you feel strong enough to rejoin the flock. So now I ask you, who wants to be a sheep?
How do you connect with other people when you are afraid? Do you feel less anxious when you are with friends? Family? At church?
What prayer or music makes you feel less fearful?
What do you do when you want to feel Jesus the Good Shepherd as a close presence? How do you listen for his voice?