Don't Take the Great Good Shepherd for Granted

sheep-pasture

Three of today’s four readings use the image of the Great Shepherd – and this holy metaphor of shepherd and sheep (and Lamb of God) has become so familiar that we sometimes take it for granted. It also loses power with most of us because few of us (myself included) experience, or come close to fully understanding, the cultural milieu of what was still a largely agrarian society and the particular hardships involved in tending sheep – especially in a semi-desert environment where predators prowl.

But if you read enough and listen enough to those who do know, you can intellectually comprehend, even if you don’t automatically intuit it at your very core, that the role of the shepherd was not merely passive and certainly not idyllic, but rather active and challenging. For Christ to be a Shepherd for us, therefore, is not for Him to merely stand watch at a distance and gently corral us when we wander too far, but rather for Him to energetically and selflessly guide us, protect us, and be willing to sacrifice for us.

And when we are hurt or ill, in body or soul, He heals us and “restores [our] souls” (Psalm 23),will “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Revelation), and, most wonderfully, “give [us] eternal life, and [we] will never perish” (John).

And speaking of healing, the fourth reading does not mention shepherd or sheep, but it does tell of one of the most dramatic of all the healing stories in the Bible, one that ranks up there with the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Perhaps even more miraculously, this story from Acts of Tabitha being raised from the dead does not even come about through the direct action of Christ, but rather from Peter in carrying out Christ’s commission to spread the Gospel and build the church.

As it is written, Peter “knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, 'Tabitha, get up.' Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He have her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive.”