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Lectionary Living

Smarter sheep

Acts 2:42-47  •  Psalm 23  •  1 Peter 2:19-25  •  John 10:1-10

    Today's story from John continues a passage read last month. I posted a comment on it called Nobody's fault. It involved the man born blind, his healing, the religious leaders throwing him out, and Jesus checking on him. Today, we hear what Jesus does next: launching into a commentary about bad leaders and a good shepherd.

    A short ten verses, the reading builds on Hebrew scriptures – Ezekiel 34 – which would have been familiar to the audience. Jesus denounces the religious leadership, comparing them to careless shepherds. The figure of speech did not work though; the Pharisees did not get what Jesus was saying (v. 6). Somehow, it was impossible for them to see themselves as anything other than good shepherds, good religious leaders. They were following all the rules! Setting such an example! But throwing a man out of the congregation rather than facing the truth he was telling them. Another truth is that human leaders are going to come up short. Putting too much trust in them is a greater burden than they can bear. In the end, each person must step up and be responsible for herself: becoming a smarter sheep.

    Several things get in the way of being smarter sheep. With lots of sheep milling around, it can be hard to think or to be oneself. However, in this time of the novel corona virus, many of us are in contact online with more family members than usual and finding an up-side to the experience. The great opportunity here is to get to know folks for who they really are and to allow them to get to know you: talking about things that matter to each of you. It's possible to set some new patterns that may go forward in the years ahead, rather than continuing as an unwitting flock of sheep.

    Smarter sheep are able to recognize and follow the voice of the shepherd. It reminds me a little of going to pick up my children from preschool. The other children just keep on playing, but my own kids – or grandkids, these days – hear me talking with a teacher, turn to look, and then run to me. We walk to the car, the children following along because they know me and my voice. It is that automatic and that natural. They will not follow a stranger.

    Jesus saying that the sheep follow him because they know his voice is a bit circular. Who follows me? Those who know my voice. Who knows my voice? Those who follow me. Here the sheep metaphor moves from a perplexing, enigmatic figure of speech to reality. Soon enough – too soon, I know – my grandchildren will no longer follow my voice automatically. The solution for them, for all of us, is a difficult one. Attempting to replace one's grandparent or parent with a benevolent god who will direct all of one's activities keeps one in a position of permanent immaturity, indecision, and confusion.

    Instead, I think these verses are challenging each of us to notice what is automatic and natural, questioning whether it is consistent with one's beliefs. This is hard work. Sometimes, one will notice with dismay how far the automatic is from how one wants to live. The advice to "fake it 'till you make it," staying with a new behavior until it becomes more natural, may be a help. Knowing the voice of Jesus is not child's play.

For reflection:

Morning:  What family member might I connect with? What would I want to share about myself? To learn?

Evening: What patterns were automatic for me today? To what extent are they consistent with what I believe? With the person I want to become?

Psalm 23:1-3 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.

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