THE SHEPHERD’S BIG TENT
Sunday’s Gospel reading features the continuation of the Shepherd Discourse, the last pubic teaching of Jesus in the Gospel according to John. Many of us, if not most, are familiar with the metaphoric images of the shepherd Jesus and his flock, and those images are comforting for us. The image of Jesus hugging the once lost sheep in tenderness and love is one I can relate to because I was that lost sheep. Maybe it’s the same for you.
There are oh, so many ways to be lost. There also many ways to be lead astray, which brings me to a couple of things that stand out for me this time around with this scripture, that being that Jesus also talks of other not-so-good shepherds and then challenges our understanding of God’s flock.
The contrast between The Good Shepherd and the hired hand is an obvious one, or at least I hope it is. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep, he’s tuned-in and connected with them. He knows what they need even before they may know for themselves and will go to any length to care for them and love them. He will even die for them. On the other hand, we have what Jesus calls the “hired hands” who are not interested in the well-being of the sheep. They not only will not care properly for them, but will exploit them, as they look out only for their own self-interest. The truth is that there isn’t anything hidden here. This isn’t a Koen. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It’s clear that Jesus is saying there are good shepherds and bad ones. The question is which will we follow?
Secondly, Jesus blows the doors off the barn when he states that “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice, so there will be one flock and one shepherd.” This is a stunning statement because it says that the flock of the “good shepherd” is not only Israel but all of humanity. Whoa…that’s big! Everyone in, nobody left outside of God’s grace and love.
So, how do we interpret these texts in light of our personal lives today and the time in which we live? Who are the self-interested hired hands trying to pass themselves off as the genuine article – The Good Shepherd? Who are indeed the good shepherds of our time? How can we ourselves be instruments of God’s grace and love to all people regardless of their denominational stripes, religious tradition, social location, or political affiliation? Because Jesus reminds us here that it’s a BIG TENT where all God’s people are welcome. He also once said that “They will know us by our love.”
With all of the division, uncertainty and mistrust that is swirling around us in the world today, this message of a one and good shepherd God for all people is timely and critical. We need to all come together. We need to somehow find ways to move beyond our own finite limitations into a larger space of understanding that there is one Universal Truth that will shepherd all of us – meaning all of humanity, into God’s Divine Love and we can all get there…together…as one. In fact, that just might be the only way we all get there. This is not a kingdom of lone wolves or hired hands, this is a Kingdom of one flock and one shepherd. This is a Kingdom of love and unity that strives for justice and peace for all people and protects the dignity of every person, whether they worship God in a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or outdoors under the sun, moon and stars. Because the table under this big tent of all people’s God is big enough for everyone to gather around. Even wolves and hired hands. And that is truly good news for all.