April 14, 2008

On Shepherding

            Two of the texts for the fourth Sunday of Easter are Psalm 23 and John 10, which offer reflection on the shepherding activity of God and God through Christ.  The Bible does not give an unambiguous portrait of shepherds.  Some are trustworthy—others are no more than hirelings with little concern for those in their care. For instance, in Ezekiel we find God’s most extensive denunciation of bad shepherds. The “shepherds” of Israel are accused of feeding themselves and not the sheep. They do not tend the wounded nor care if they get scattered. They do not love the sheep.


            Historically, shepherding has not been thought to be a very noble profession. In biblical times, they were associated with “light fingers.”  They pilfered as they and their flocks passed through. In Medieval times, shepherds customarily were buried with a tuft of wool in hand to prove their occupation on Doomsday and be excused for often missing church.


            Psalm 23, which we usually associate with funerals, is actually about life. God supplies everything we need, I shall lack nothing. Clinton McCann ways the message of this psalm is radical in a consumer-oriented society: “God is the only necessity of life.”  This is hard to hear, for in our day we are encouraged to trust ourselves—not God. We believe it is our responsibility to secure our lives and futures (think of all the strategies we employ as tax day looms!).


            The idea of a shepherd is ancient, but it is not passé.  It speaks of the incarnation of reliable guidance, protection, care, and attentive knowing. The most significant aspect of John 10 is Jesus’ claim that he knows his sheep—and that they know him. There is no deeper yearning for God or humans than to be fully known.


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