What makes a Good Shepherd GOOD anyway?
Good Shepherd Sunday is a little hard for me because I feel the need to be able to talk to you about the role of a shepherd, but I know that if I did too much of that you would have to help me pull my size fourteens by the time you finished reading.
I still love this Sunday when it comes around on the Fourth Sunday of Easter every year because although I know more about L.A. freeways than I do Shepherds, I still think I know something about what makes a shepherd good.
When I was growing up, every December I got to watch a shepherd who lived in the nativity scene on the end table in our living room. I didn’t know about this week’s Gospel at that early age, but I always imagined that the shepherd in that scene MUST be a GOOD Shepherd. . . He watched over three little sheep, and I have to tell you, they were a ragged bunch.
My older brother and sister had played with them over the years. . . long before I arrived. They were scratched and marred, and some were missing legs; they were pretty badly broken. But the shepherd never seemed to mind their imperfections or their brokenness. He continued to look upon them with love. He always stood steadfastly by his three little broken sheep!
A GOOD Shepherd, you see, stands by his sheep and cherishes them even when they are broken, precisely because they are broken, and nobody will ever convince me otherwise.
Somewhere I remember coming across a story about an immigrant family who came to the United States in a century past. They were very poor and were so enamored by the shops in San Francisco and all the conveniences of the modern world, that it amazed them.
A little boy in the family. . . a boy of about 10 years. . . picked up a mirror in one of the shops. At first he didn’t even know what it was for, but then he turned it around and looked into it. He was in shock when he saw his face so clearly for the very first time.
You see, he had been kicked in the face when he was very young by a mule, and his face was badly disfigured.
He turned to his mother and asked, Do you love me even with my ugly face?
Of course I love you, she said. But, I don’t love you because of your face. I love you because you’re mine!
I had a conversation with a retired priest at a clergy conference, and I asked him if there was anything he would do differently in his ministry. He said, Bill, there IS one thing I would do differently. . . I would speak more to people’s pain.
That’s what this 10th chapter of the Gospel of John is doing. It’s speaking to all our worries, and all our hurts, and all that pains us. This Gospel is not calling us to go out and become Mother Theresa. It’s asking us to first place our lives in the care of the Good Shepherd. Once we experience the Good Shepherd’s unfailing love. . . it stands to reason we will want to be like him.
The reason that I preached and now write about God’s love more than about God’s commandments, is because I believe the commandments follow love. That’s what the scripture that says, We love because God first loves us, means. It stands to reason that if we really come to believe in the love of the Good Shepherd, we too will smile and love others even when they are ragged and broken. . . precisely because they are ragged and broken.
The Good Shepherd says in today’s Gospel, and there are other sheep not of my fold, and I must bring them also.
The Good Shepherd’s love is pluralistic, universal and all-inclusive, or as they say in the Latin, catholic.
The Good Shepherd’s love doesn’t allow for private little sheep-pens full of perfect and righteous little sheep!
Therefore, on Good Shepherd Sunday, I refuse to lay guilt on people because they don’t love properly or because they haven’t died for any sheep lately.
I’m rather fond of the cartoon where two sheep are talking to one another, and one sheep says to the other, We all like people have gone astray.
Of course all of us have failed at love, and here behind this keyboard writing this reflection sits a 24-carat failure.
That’s’s precisely why God gave us a SHEPHERD — and not just any old shepherd — but a GOOD SHEPHERD! I want to tell each of you that you are worthy of God’s love, not because of something you did, but just because you belong to God, pure and simple. I want you to forget about how dumb sheep are, and how bad they smell, and all that other agricultural memorabilia that spews out from pulpits all over the place on this Sunday. I want you to ponder instead on how they place their trust in the shepherd, and how the Good Shepherd never lets them down . . . NEVER!
I know you need a Good Shepherd, because we all do. Every day we hear of a new cause of cancer, a new threat to heart disease, or a new virus without a cure. But those dangers are nothing compared to the ones that lurk in our hearts and in our own minds even in church, right in the glory of this Easter season. You know I’m right!
Some are living so close financially that they wonder, What if the car dies. . . what if I can’t make the mortgage this month. Some of us are worried about a health condition. Some have important relationships that are hanging together by a thin and frayed thread. And others are very lonely and are wondering if loneliness is a life sentence.
I especially know that we all have voices from the past speaking to us. The priest in the church where I grew up in Southern California was in the habit of coming into class at the church school and reading aloud the grades on the report cards one-by-one in front of the whole class.
Once, when he read my report card, he proceeded to tell me, in fifth grade, in front of the entire class, that I would never amount to anything.
Do you hear those voices from long ago, or maybe not so long ago, voices that say, You’re no good. You’ll never make it, You don’t have what it takes. You’ll never overcome all those mistakes you made. Do you ever hear those voices. . . ?
Well let me tell you, good little sheep only hear one voice. They are very deliberate about it. They hear the voice of the GOOD SHEPHERD who says, I love you so much that I would lay down my life for you, in fact, if you were the only one on the planet, I would have died for you. I love you even when you’re ragged, and stained and broken because you are mine. And don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
No, it’s not my intention, in this reflection, to tell you to, Go out and love like the Good Shepherd. I want to tell you to, Go out and let the Good Shepherd love you — let the Good Shepherd lead you!
There’s an old Chinese proverb that tells the story of a fox that was captured by a tiger. The fox said to the tiger, You can’t eat me because the gods have made me the leader of all animals.
The tiger did not believe the fox, but the cunning fox said, Walk with me and see if any animal challenges me.
The tiger agreed to this and stood beside the fox as the fox began his walk through the forest. To the tiger’s amazement, it turned out to be exactly as the fox had said. Not a single animal they encountered challenged the fox. Indeed every animal they met fled in sheer panic. Finally the tiger agreed that the fox was the leader of all the animals and let him go.
Sometimes it’s who you walk with that makes all the difference. To quote a little wisdom according to Exxon Corporation, we all need a tiger in our tank. We all need a GOOD SHEPHERD. Our Good Shepherd is risen and very much alive! Invite him to walk beside you , but most of all believe in his unfailing love.
The Good Shepherd is good because he wishes for nothing more.
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