Not to us, O Lord,
not to us,
but to your name give glory.
1 Samuel 22:1-23:29
David escapes, his family joins him as does a crowd of discontented people who are in debt--about 400 of them. He seeks protection for his family from the king of Moab. Saul complains to the people around him, "What has David done for you? Would he try to help you? Won't anybody tell me where that man is hiding?" Doeg will and does.
Saul summons the priests who have given shelter to David demanding why they have done so. They respond by asking who wouldn't be willing to help a man in the service of his king, who also is the king's son-in-law. Saul says, "Kill all of these priests." Doeg kill 85 of them.
When he hears about the massacre, David retaliates and escapes.
We are in the period of Jesus' ministry before the last supper but during a time when he is performing many miracles--displeasing his opponents, the religious authorities. Jesus said that he had come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don't see can and those who see will become blind." His opponents responded, "Surely we aren't blind, are we?"
So, are Jesus' words in chapter 10 an answer to that question? Is Jesus talking to his followers or his enemies when he describes himself as the shepherd?
Whether he is talking to them or not, isn't he talking about them when he contrasts his own role as the shepherd with that of the thief and bandit?
He has healed a blind man; they have criticized him because he did it on the sabbath. Wouldn't a shepherd have been concerned enough about the sheep in his care not to look on the calendar before helping it?
The sheep can tell the difference between the true shepherd and the false one. They know which one to follow.
John was writing about Pharisees, but they weren't the last false shepherds. Christians must continue to distinguish between the voices speaking to them. Jesus says that the sheep can tell the difference. Is that still true of today's sheep? Do we recognize the voice of the shepherd or are we likely to follow some other attraction?
Jesus offers assurances to his listeners: "I am the gate." I am the way in for those who are in need.
He's still using the metaphor of sheep, so we imagine a flock of sheep pushing against the fence, needing the comforts offered inside and needing protection from the dangers out there where they now are.
Until they can find the gate that will let them in, they are stuck there outside.
Jesus says, "I am the gate." I am the way that the sheep can escape dangers and get into the pasture.
Let's not restrict Jesus' promise to afterlife only. He's telling us sheep that there is a way out of our troubles and a way into what we need now.
Important distinction: attributes of the good shepherd with that of the hired hand. A good shepherd is willing to give up his own life to protect the sheep in his care. A hired man is willing to give up the sheep in order to protect himself.
Sometimes we can read these words as reassuring. When I am in trouble, Christ was protect me. Surely, the first Christian communities would have needed such reassurance.
But, we can also read them as prescriptive. We who are the body of Christ, we who are the church, have in our care many who need protection. Or, we should have them in our care.
Look around you. How are the sheep doing in your town? When trouble comes to them, do you run toward them or away?
Another distinction--that may not be important: sheep in my fold and sheep that do not belong to my fold. Who are the other sheep? Do you consider them to be the responsibility of your congregation?
Who is the other for us?
Who are these sheep that Jesus cares for that aren't in our fold? People of our community who have a different level of income or ethnicity or religious affiliation? People in another country?
How hard is it for us to imagine that someone different from us in many important ways can also hear Jesus' voice?
Those who are hot-tempered stir up strife,
but those who are slow to anger calm contention.
Prayer for Today: O Lord, our God, open our eyes to see those around us who are lonely, who have needs, who are in trouble. Inspire us to offer the support and comfort that the people around us need. And, O Lord, open our hearts to see and to help those who are not in our immediate community. Amen.