A shepherd was tending his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a dust cloud approached at high speed, out of which emerged a shiny silver BMW. The driver, a young man in an Armani suit, Ferragamo shoes, the latest Polarized sunglasses and a tightly knotted power tie, poked his head out the window and asked the shepherd, "Hey! If I can tell you how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?" The shepherd looked at the man, then glanced at his peacefully grazing flock and answered, "Sure."
The driver parked his car, plugged his microscopic cell phone into a laptop and briskly surfed to a GPS satellite navigation system on the Internet and initiated a remote body-heat scan of the area. While the computer was occupied, he sent some e-mail via his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, nodded solemnly at the responses. Finally, he printed a 150 page report on the little laser printer in his glove compartment, turned to the shepherd, waving the sheaves of paper, and pronounced “You have exactly 1,586 sheep." "Impressive. One of my sheep is yours." said the shepherd.
He watched the young man select an animal and bundle it into his car. Then the shepherd said: "If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my sheep?" Pleased to meet a fellow sportsman, the young man replied “You’re on.” "You are a consultant." said the shepherd without hesitation. "That's correct," said the young man, impressed. "How ever did you guess?" "It wasn’t a guess," replied the shepherd. "You drive into my field uninvited. You ask me to pay you for information I already know, answer questions I haven’t asked, and you know nothing about my business. Now give me back my dog."
Sheep definitely have not changed, but the shepherds have changed quite a bit. At the time of Jesus, shepherds were not considered good. In fact, it was just the opposite. They were known to be dirty, thieves, and were forbidden by Jewish law from being witnesses in any trial because they were flagrant liars. So why would Jesus call himself a “Shepherd” and a “Good” one at that?
Well, isn’t this Jesus’ usual style of inviting the listener to go beyond “the box”? For with Jesus, there was no box. He turned the world upside down and inside out; he crossed boundaries and borders of rules, regulations, and traditions that bound the spirits of the eager of heart. He was a presence that disturbed the religious and political worlds. He lived on the edge and the margins of society and ministered to those who would be found there. He banqueted with sinners and tax collectors; challenged people to become light and salt, and told them to forgive their enemies. He also could speak to the wind and the waves; he cast out demons, and gave sight to the blind.
So who are the Good Shepherds of today? We are all called to be shepherds of our world today – to care for creation, to be voices for the poor, the marginalized – the least, the last, and the lost. These shepherds need to be willing to confront the systems that keep humanity and creation defenseless and vulnerable
This Sunday is named Fourth Sunday after Easter in the liturgical calendar. According to some writers, Jesus, having called himself a “Good Shepherd” is an oxymoron. At the time of Jesus, shepherds were regarded as thieves. They were mean and dirty and were forbidden by Jewish law from being witnesses in a trial because they were such notorious liars. So why did he choose to name himself this? Let us ponder this over this week.
It is known that in the Middle East, shepherds walk in front of their sheep and lead them because of the dangerous terrain, whereas in Europe and in the U.S., the sheep are driven from behind. Shepherds provide nourishment, guidance, and safety for the sheep, and have a close relationship with their sheep. When sheep were penned in for the night, the shepherd would often lie across the opening of the sheepfold, becoming the door. The sheepfold was a place of safety where several flocks of sheep were kept for the night and guarded. In the next morning when the shepherd arrived to gather his flock, he entered the sheepfold and would call out to his own sheep. The sheep would recognize his voice and they would follow him onto the hillside to begin their day. Guess the shepherd had some great qualities that didn't get “much press.”
Now leaning back into the Boston Marathon - April 2013 bombing experience, I suppose the runners of the marathon looked like sheep – all running after the lead runners. But with the tragedy, they all became shepherds – they immediately sensed that they had to care for the injured, comfort the mourners, give nourishment to those huddled against the walls and seeking safety; some even tore their clothes to make tourniquets to prevent the excessive bleeding of the injured. Truly, when things became at their worst, these runners, first responders, police, health care workers, bystanders, anyone and everyone, became their best!