Monday, May 8, 2017
Are You A Good Shepherd?
Jesus’ parables were given so that the hearers might put themselves in the place of the characters, and learn a lesson. But the Good Shepherd parable, as was read today at mass, rarely has us considering the key character of the parable, and asking: Am I a good shepherd? How many lost people, especially among those we’re supposed to love the most, have we given up on, and stopped trying to save? Read on, and consider.
It’s easy to consider ourselves as one of the 99 in the parable, the flock who loyally follows Jesus; we DO believe He is the Good Shepherd and we want to follow Him. It’s also pretty easy to consider ourselves as the lost sheep; we all have strayed. And perhaps today we might even consider that in our culture it is not just the one but the 99 who are straying. It must give the Good Shepherd a headache!
But … He doesn’t give up on us. Never. And that’s something we need learn from the parable, to trust in, and evaluate.
Do you have a spouse you more often hate more than love? Do you have a child who doesn’t go to church anymore? Do you have a sibling who you avoid, so you don’t argue? Do you have a parent, who in their old-age dementia, doesn’t recognize you anymore? And so, you ask yourself: How can I love them, when they act like that? And perhaps you even seek support from friends: Isn’t it right that I avoid them, and their toxicity to me? (As a divorced person who avoids his ex, I DO understand.)
Put yourself in the place of the Good Shepherd in today’s parable. Those 99 sheep are no problem; of course, He loves them, and they love Him. But that last one, … that lost one is the stubborn one, the one who thinks he knows a better way. He wants to have nothing to do with you. He could get himself into brambles, fall off a cliff, or even get eaten by a wolf, but still he’ll say: I don’t need your help. And if we try to tell him we’re concerned because we love him, he’ll tell us he doesn’t need that kind of love.
Regarding his life, he is loudly (proudly?) proclaiming: “I know the way!!” (And oh, as we think about chastising him remember, we’ve all heard those very words come out of our mouths, too.)
But the Good Shepherd goes out looking for that sheep who thinks he knows the way, the one He loves who wants nothing to do with Him, that awful spouse, that bratty child, that know-it-all sibling. He wants good for them; He wants them to be found --- even if they don’t know they are lost.
I know we all think we are good people. We all believe, in some way, that we are the good shepherd. So the real question isn’t: “Am I a good shepherd?” It’s: “How do I BE a good shepherd?” And I think the answer to that question is back in the parable: we persevere. We look in places, in ways, we didn’t look before. And we pray. And we trust. We put ourselves in the role of the good sheep we think we are, and turn to the REAL Good Shepherd and ask: “Where would You lead me?” And we trust.
- - - - - - - - - -
Trusting and persevering are two of the most difficult things in my life. Why do I write this blog? Why do I get involved in the church and non-profits? I rarely see meaningful results. I am alone. In recent weeks, I heard talks from two men who dedicate their lives, travel the world, to help the poor. They are making a difference. And this week I met with Naomi, who was disposing of the last of her possessions, before she leaves for Africa on Friday: “Mom died; there’s nothing holding me here. The children in Uganda need me.” And I was so humbled. And then she asked: “Will you come and visit me?”
The Good Shepherd said He’d focus His life to even save just the one. His example is a humbling one: He doesn’t expect us to save the world. The lost sheep was from His flock; perhaps He pursues it because He feels guilty it got lost. The example of the Good Shepherd is to trust and persevere.
He didn’t say it would be easy. He didn’t promise great consolations, or results. And the Good Shepherd felt alone, and perhaps He too wondered: Am I making a difference?
My friends go off and help the poor; it seems so tempting to follow them. I want to make a difference.
But the Good Shepherd, who we are called to emulate, perseveres and trusts, alone.
He doesn’t give up, and neither should we. Even though the world seems a scary, lonely place at times.