Ivy has pointed out to me that Jesus talks about shepherding from the vantage point of someone surrounded by shepherding but not actually experienced in it.
Personally, I’ve always wondered why he didn’t tell parables that involved any carpentry metaphors, and why he didn’t seem to value wood. There’s the fig tree that doesn’t bear fruit, and Jesus says it will be cut down and thrown into the fire; why not “it will be cut down and turned into a table”?
At any rate, Good Shepherd Sunday brought back to my mind a story Rich Mullins told during an interview. In VietNam, a pastor wanted to preach about Jesus as the good shepherd, only he’d never seen a sheep and knew nothing about shepherding.
(I have to relate a funny story here. I’m a city girl. Sometimes I take my Kiddos out of Angeltown to a farm to pick apples or blueberries, and while we’re there, we see the farm animals. A while ago, when we went, it was one of the household guardians’ first times there, and I felt this startled question in my head, as if to say, This is what you do for fun? You pretend to farm? And it all unfolded in my head in an instant, that this was how people lived for thousands of years, and here it is now, a day-trip. For a moment, I could see the absurdity from an outsider’s point of view. That’s how divorced we are from an agrarian culture.)
The pastor in Rich Mullins’ story didn’t go blueberry picking; instead he walked fifteen miles to the closest library, read up on shepherding, and walked home again to preach to his congregation on what he’d found.
The pastor told them, “A shepherd tends and protects his sheep, then takes their wool, and eventually he kills them to take their meat.”
I think that was supposed to horrify the American listeners, but this is exactly where I stood for a long time in relation to God. I had an attitude of complete submission because I identified with this idea of the shepherd: Jesus protected me, but at whatever time as he wanted to go ahead and “use” me for whatever I could give him (my wool, my meat) then it was his right to go ahead and take it. At some point or another, it would happen.
After all, shepherds aren’t raising sheep as pets. They’re raising them for a reason. Sheep make yarn. They make little sheep. And eventually, they go to the butcher.
Last year, my spiritual life got wrenched around in ways I never expected, and at one point, this belief came under scrutiny. It was so low-level and so long-term (think three decades) that I’d never been aware of it, but I had no trust that God wanted what was best for me, only for the Kingdom of God, the big picture, the system. I was a pawn in an ontological game of chess, and God might sacrifice the pawn for a better position. You don’t care about your chess pieces. It made sense that in the larger system of things, God didn’t care about me either. I owed God my fealty, and I would be loyal, but I fully expected at some point to be sacrificed off the board.
How this translated into my behavior was this: clearly your best bet is not to attract God’s attention. Don’t stick your head up, and God won’t get out the hammer to bang you down again.
And I know this shocked (horrified?) my guardian angel, because at one point I actually heard in my head, during prayer, “It’s okay to trust in God. He knows what He’s doing.” But it wasn’t God’s competency I had called into question. It was His concern.
Ivy worked with me on this, but we couldn’t get me past the “grand master chessman” toward anything resembling “fatherhood.” There was too much fear involved.
I can’t go into what happened that turned me around. It’s too personal and you wouldn’t believe it anyhow. But it’s a year later now, and I’m convinced that God cares about me personally, the same way He cares about you and about your best friend and the next person who reads this after you, and that God’s big enough to juggle all these things to make it happen. It’s quite a change, but the largest difference is I’m no longer afraid to stick my head up and get God’s attention. The fear is gone.
If Jesus is a good shepherd, though, then he’s got an eye toward economy and the usefulness of the sheep. I still don’t know how to reconcile that.
And what does it mean that Jesus is both the Shepherd and the Lamb?