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This post was originally featured on http://www.markwhittall.com
Here is a much mistreated passage from the Fourth Gospel about shepherds and sheep.
I have come that human beings may have life and may have it is all its fullness. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hireling, when he sees the wolf coming, abandons the sheep and runs away, because he is no shepherd and the sheep are not his. John 10 :10-12
Those who give sermons on the good shepherd often assume that this ancient image applies to a contemporary pastor who tells his flock what they should believe and how they should act. Such a view also assumes that most people are sheep in the sense of being gullible, go-along, authority-addicted dumbbells.
I do not believe this was the meaning intended by the original author of these verses. The original shepherd image was grounded in the experience of noticing highly dedicated persons working on a hillside with a flock of sheep, providing them grass and water and protecting them from wolves. Being a follower of Jesus means being such a leader.
So where can we actually experience this Good Shepherd in our lives today? Let me answer this with a fictitious story—a story made out of my own experiences. In my story, Sally McGillicutty teaches an adult class in the Sunflower room of the Umpity Ump Christian Church. Sally trusts the Ultimate Message that the Infinite Silence we meet in every event of our lives loves Sally and every other person (and creature) on this planet or any other planet. Because of her trust in that Eternal Wholeness that is faced by Sally and by us, Sally is thereby an embodiment of the Ultimate Message from Eternity.
When Sally walks into the room, the Ultimate Message walks into the room. When Sally speaks, the Infinite Silence speaks the Ultimate Message. When Sally notices the despairing living going on her class, that despairing living knows itself noticed by the Infinite Silence, audited by the Infinite Silence, forgiven by the Infinite Silence, and called by the Infinite Silence to a free, trusting, compassionate, tranquil sort of living. Sally constantly confronts each member of her class with the option of living human life in victorious freedom. Sally is a person through whom the Infinite Silence speaks. She challenges her class to live their lives with courageous freedom—to live with compassionate freedom the same lives over which each of her class members quite commonly despair.
The men in her class who feel they have no feelings worth expressing learn from Sally to experience, to trust, and to express those feelings. They learn that every anger, every fear, every hostility, every compassion, every bodily desire, is part of the goodness of life. The women in her class (most of whom always thought that being nice was the one thing that a proper woman should do) learn from Sally that being firm and ruthlessly honest is the sort of aliveness approved by Eternity. The parents in her class (most of whom live in despondency with the thought that they are to blame for every failure or flaw in their offspring) learn from Sally to realize that each of their children is virgin born, an offspring of the Infinite Silence–that children are strange and mysterious beings who must do their own despairing, failures, depravities, as well as find their own buoyant living and astonishing novelties. “Parents,” Sally says, “who love, feed, and protect their children from injury, are doing their job.” “And loving them fully,” she says, “includes allowing them the freedom and the dignity of going astray in their own way.” “Maybe,” Sally says, “you might pray without ceasing that your children will find trust in the Infinite Silence, but if they don’t, it’s not your fault.” In these and many other ways, Sally is the Ultimate Message in human flesh. Sally is the Resurrected Jesus to this particular flock who come each week to probe with Sally into the secrets of living life in an ongoing trust of the Infinite Silence. Sally is the Good Shepherd. Before Abraham was born, this strange Sally IS.
Sally is not appreciated by every person who has attended her class. Some left in a huff and never returned. One particular official in the church sought to have her class disbanded. “A disgrace,” he called it. But Sally believes that such opposition is to be expected. She even uses this opposition to teach her point that we live in a world of darkness that opposes the light. As to her own inconvenience and grief over being opposed in these ways, Sally says, “The Good Shepherd lays down her life for her sheep. Therefore, a bit of grumpiness from the congregational establishment does not discourage me.”
Now my story might have taken place in some other environment than a church. Sally could be a teacher of secular wisdom in some university. Sally could a teacher of Buddhism. Or perhaps Sally is not a teacher at all, but a plumber who comes to fix your water faucets. Perhaps Sally is a political leader who knows how to take care of her staff. Perhaps Sally is as organizer of a revolutionary movement. The Jesus Christ-dynamic, since it is the Ultimate Message from the Infinite Silence, is not limited to the communication that might go on in the context of a Christian church. The communication of the Ultimate Message does not even require the context of Christian symbolism.
Any person who communicates in any way that we are loved by the Infinite Silence is a fleshly embodiment of the Ultimate Message. That person can be said to be “in Christ.” That person is living “in the name of Jesus, the Christ” Indeed, that person, insofar as he or she actually embodies the Ultimate Message, is the Resurrected Jesus Christ!
Those two words “Jesus Christ” do not only point to a first-century peasant teacher from Nazareth; they also point to a dynamic of healing that is built into the cosmos. Perhaps you have noticed the opening verses of John’s narrative that this dynamic, “The Communication of the Infinite Silence,” was present at the creation of everything. This was poetry, but poetry about the everywhere presence of this Word of healing.
There are many deep, profound, compassionate persons who do not call themselves by the name of “Jesus.” We who do revere Jesus in an ultimate way can, however, view any authentic spirit messenger as “Jesus Christ.” Why? Because these two words, deeply understood, speak of a dynamic that can happen anywhere. The true flock know their Shepherd wherever and whenever that Shepherd shows up. Yes, the Resurrection of Jesus really happens, happens indeed!
Every Good Shepherd is the second FACE of the triune experience of Divinity. Every Good Shepherd is the Beloved Offspring of the Infinite Silence, the Ultimate Message in human flesh, the New Adam or Eve who knows the Eternal as Love and in that context lives the full ambiguities of a human life. Perhaps you have met some Good Shepherds who have laid down part or all of their lives for some fragile sheep like, for example, you.