There are some people in my life that I would just do anything for:
My wife is one of them. I've really learned a lot about love from Marion. She loves me when I'm sure frankly, that I don't always make it easy for her to love me. When I'm cranky or depressed or upset or just simply mean...Marion finds it within herself to love me beyond measure. And because of that I realize that I too, need to love her in the same way. There's nothing I wouldn't do for that wife of mine.
We have a dog named Haze who I am--to put it mildly--obsessed with. He is clearly a pet who gives new meaning to Man's Best Friend and he loves me beyond measure. There's nothing I wouldn't do for that dog.
And while I try not to play favorites with my nieces and nephew--Katie often makes that very challenging for me. She runs down the driveway when she sees me coming and never wants me to head back home. We laugh, we play, we enjoy each other's company. I teach, she learns from me--but often she teaches me much more about simple pleasures: a nice cold drink of lemonade, a ride on the zip line, a good storybook, watching a child grow up. That's Katie--and for that matter her brother and her sisters are not far behind her. There's nothing I wouldn't do for those kids.
Some scripture scholars say that Jesus really was trying to say that he was the "insane" Shepherd. That no shepherd in his right mind would go off to find one or two sheep at the risk of scattering the ones who stayed with the flock. In fact Jesus plainly states that: "A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep." This guy cares more about his own hide than the job he has at hand. The sheep after all are not his. If he loses one or two or 12 nobody is going to make him pay for them--he just might not get paid that day's wage. But if a wolf comes, he is just as afraid of the saber toothed wolf so he runs away not caring if the sheep are sacrificed. If it were the owner he'd do his best to bring all the sheep in and to scare off the wolf somehow.
But then Jesus says "I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep."
Whoa. The good shepherd. The one who gives all he has for his sheep. This one will even let that wolf tear him limb from limb so that the sheep might survive.
That's crazy--who wouldn't give up one or two of his sheep to a wolf to save the flock from being scattered and moreover save himself to work another day.
Well...Jesus tells us--that depends. It's all a matter of how close you are to the sheep.
Does the shepherd love his sheep? Does he give the sheep a name? Will it be hard for this shepherd to make lamb chops out of this sheep and can he even bring himself to do it? My father had the opportunity to go and work on a sheep farm in Australia when he was young and they sent him to a small farm in Ireland to see if he would enjoy working on the farm. He simply adored seeing all these sheep, all these fluffy, cuddly sheep---baaaaaahing all the day. He's feed them and sheer them and gather them together. All seemed well with the world on the sheep farm until someone handed him the knife. When he looked into the sheep' eyes, Baaaaaaaaah. He realized then that he just didn't have the stomach for this. And I don't think I've ever seen him eat lamb in the 40 years I've known him.
He loved the sheep. And that's how God loves us. And that is the point of Jesus' story. Shepherds really don't care if they lose a sheep or two. The flock is going to all eventually be destroyed anyway when they sell the sheep to the local marketeers who make a nice profit from someone looking to have a lamb dinner. If you have 100 sheep and only 98 make it in--that's a good day. You only lost two.
But does God think that way about his creation. If there are 200 people in church today and 198 of them walk out of here and two of them don't we all begin to talk about the two people who didn't make it--don't we? If we took a group of school children on a trip, we take special care to make sure they all make it back safely.
If God creates us and places us in this world with all of our gifts and talents and our only task is to make it back home to him in heaven--then if we go astray, isn't that a crushing defeat for God? God doesn't think that any of his creations are disposable. They are all important. You, me, our children, those in the hospitals or being ravaged by war, those on the streets going hungry, those who suffer from addiction or mental illness who seem lost, those unborn yet in their mother's womb.
They are all cared for by the Good Shepherd.
We often make the Shepherd's life hard by going on our own path and not that path that brings us all back to where we will be most loved by our creator. We choose the dangerous path where the wolf lurks and where the woods are dark. The Shepherd will look for us, again and again, hoping beyond hope to find us--and that he will not lose more sheep like us.
There is nothing that the Good Shepherd wouldn't do to bring us home.
Jesus is that Good Shepherd and if he is gathering sheep than so must we. Who is it that we have given up on--or said is a lost cause? Who do we let go and forget about in order to take care of the needs of the many over the particular needs of the few? Do we ignore our homeless so as not to deprive our own families of luxuries? Do we avoid marriage or children or our families so that we might more selfishly enjoy a life without obligation to someone else? Do we give up on people at work when they fail to show the promise that we know is hidden deep within them?
Jesus tells us: "This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again." That each time we become the good Shepherd and each time we realize that God is this good Shepherd for us--we give all that we are so that someone else might become what they can be. And we gain renewal in that effort. We get more than we give when we teach a child how to walk for the first time, knowing that they are going to fall astray until we help them up and try again. We get more than we give when he fortify the homeless with a nourishing meal. We get more than we give when we help a young mother get back on her feet so that she can bring life into the world free from her fear.
The world needs us to be Good Shepherds and to be Good Shepherds each day of our lives because God has gathered us back gently with his shepherd's crook again and again--gently, firmly, but always seeking us to come back into the flock--no matter where we have been.
Who have we forgotten who needs us to find their way back home?
BTW: A hat tip to Br. Mickey McGrath whose print of the Good Shepherd hangs in my home--in the room my dog, Haze most hangs out in. Get more of his work at beestill.org
Your humble blogger is Mike Hayes, a well-known expert in the world of young adult ministry (20s and 30s) in the Catholic Church. Mike is the author of Googling God (Paulist, 2007) where he explores both the chaotic world that young people live in and their religious reactions to that world. He also explores the age of instant gratification and how churches can respond to the needs of the young adult age by using technology alongside more traditional ministry methods.
Mike founded the award winning BustedHalo.com® in 2001 and continues to contribute to it as the editor of their catechetical section appropriately named Googling God.
Recently, he left BustedHalo® to focus on more direct ministry with young people at St Joseph University Parish as a Campus Minister for the South Campus at the University at Buffalo.
He has only two loves: his adorable wife, Marion and a nine pound chihuahua named Haze, who still find him amusing enough to let them live in their home.