Of Shepherds and Sheep and Multitudes in White

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Bom dia! And in case you didn’t understand that, it means “good morning” in Portuguese. As you may know, I just spent two weeks in Portugal on vacation. I had a great time, but I’m glad to be back home!

Today is unofficially referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. The reason is pretty obvious. We get references to lambs, sheep, and shepherds in the Collect of the Day and in three out of four of today’s appointed readings. (The first lesson from the Acts of the Apostles is the sole exception.)

The purpose of this set of readings is to drive home the point that Jesus is the good shepherd of God’s people. For country folk, this statement might not need much explanation. But for us city folk, this seemingly simple idea needs more clarification, I think.

With apologies to St. Peter, I am going to skip right over his miracle in the Acts of the Apostles and begin with the appointed psalm, Psalm 23. This is the one psalm that most people can quote, even if only partially. And because of its promise of consolation, it is the favorite psalm at Christian funerals. The problem with this psalm is that we have heard it so many times that we don’t pay attention to it anymore. And we really ought to pay close attention to the very first line: “The Lord is my shepherd.” This verse is, in effect, a pledge of allegiance—not to the flag of our country, but to our God. When we recite that line, we declare where our ultimate loyalty lies. Above our dedication to any sports teams, above our commitment to any political party, above our patriotism to our homeland, we Christians vow to follow the Lord, just as sheep follow a shepherd.

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Now this pledge of allegiance is not without its difficulties. For one thing, we are comparing ourselves to sheep, animals that are lacking in judgment, vulnerable to predators, and prone to stray. For another, we are comparing our Lord to a shepherd. On my trip to Portugal, I visited the Roman Catholic shrine at Fátima. According to legend, three children saw visions of the Virgin Mary in that village in the year 1917. The reason I bring this up is that these three young, illiterate peasant children were shepherds. Before visiting Fátima, it had never occurred to me just how odd it is that Holy Scripture compares the Lord to a lowly peasant tasked with tending sheep. Odd, but also comforting. For in likening the Lord to a shepherd, we encounter a divine humility that takes away some of the sting of our being likened to stupid, smelly sheep.

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Jumping ahead to the Gospel reading, we hear Jesus say, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” What is clear here is that we are being called to do two things: to listen to Jesus and then to follow him. Now, there are so many voices in our lives telling us what to think and what to feel and what to do. But we, as Christians, are called to listen to just one voice, the voice of Jesus. How do we do this? Well, we read and study the Bible, especially the Gospels. We open ourselves to Jesus in prayer—not the kind of prayer where we tell him what we want him to do, but the kind where we ask him for guidance in our lives and then listen for his response. And lastly, we try our best to pay attention to the preacher each Sunday, on the off chance that something he says might make some small difference in our lives! Now, that’s all easy enough, but then comes the hard part: actually following Jesus. That task takes courage, and faith, and hope—lots of hope! For the results of following the Good Shepherd are not always immediate, and it is all too easy to fall into despair as we wait for divine providence. It is all too easy to give up, to listen to other voices, to follow other shepherds.

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That’s where the reading from the Revelation to John is helpful, for it reminds us of the reward for those who listen to and follow only Jesus, for those who faithfully endure the ordeals and tribulations of this world: “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Earlier in this same reading, St. John speaks of a great multitude of people from every nation, robed in white, standing before the throne of the Lamb with palm branches in their hands. An elder asks John, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” The elder then answers his own question, identifying the crowd in white robes as those who kept the faith even to the end. I suspect that among that great multitude are three peasants from Portugal, who tended their sheep and loved their Lord. Let us pray that someday we too may find ourselves standing alongside them, garbed in clean white robes, enthusiastically waiving palm fronds and shouting praises to our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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© 2019 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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