The Standard January 14, 2021
“When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) Today in our country, we see crowds of people who feel harassed and helpless, tired of the polarization, bad news and negativity. There are loud voices, mostly but not exclusively secular, pushing us to our corners. A current literary notion says that we have our distinct groups and there is practically nothing well-meaning folks can do to bridge any divides or heal any fractures. Division becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Many grieve with a deep sense of hopelessness because we are told the past defines us and that there is no redemption or forgiveness. Nothing could be further from the message of Jesus.
In one of his seven “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John, Jesus uses an Old Testament image from Ezekiel 34. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:11-16)
The Jews were God’s chosen people and believed God’s favor and redemption were exclusively for themselves. Jesus completely disrupted conventional thinking when he taught that the floodgates of God’s love and grace were opened up to everyone. There were “other sheep” not of the original pen who would be included. There would be one flock and one shepherd, despite different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Without factions and divisions, The Church would be a beacon of hope for the world. We all are sinners on equal footing, transformed because of the cross. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
Those who perpetuate the myth that we are doomed to be stuck in our own corners and that there is no hope for reconciliation do not understand the immeasurable power of the living God. They do not know the depth and breadth of redeeming love. The love of God binds us together with true brothers and sisters who might not look like we look or have the same backgrounds we have. We do not ignore the differences, but we focus on The One who is the shepherd of the one flock. We are alert to injustice and work to fight it head-on. We are vigilant in not tolerating favoritism or violence. As best we can, we try to step into the shoes of others, empathize with their difficulties and engage in alleviating their suffering. Thanks be to God that the bond we share is far greater than any of the things which might divide us!