hmm, not convinced about the title of this post, but its better than ‘for a few shepherds more’ which is the alternative my brain appears to be stuck with- its nearly midnight here, so that’s my excuse.
Anyway, why all this talk of shepherds? Blame John, or his Gospel anyway, chapter 10 to be specific. Today’s reading is an example of a time when Jesus didn’t bother telling a story, and instead painted a word-picture… ‘I’m a shepherd, the best you’ve ever seen’… quite clearly this is an image rather than literal truth, as most of his hearers would have known he was an out of work carpenter and an itinerant preacher/healer, but what does he mean?
Its the idea that he knows and care for each of us, and calls us to follow him. I was talking to a few folk about this passage earlier on, and in passing mentioned that he knows all his sheep by name, as your average shepherd does. Suddenly, one lady, who happens to be 92 years old and fairly deaf, perked up and said- but do you think all shepherds did know their sheep by name, or was Jesus making the point there that he’s unlike other shepherds, a bit like the parables stretch an idea to make the point… I was momentarily floored. Most of the time this lady can’t hear what I’m saying, and I’ve no idea what she thinks of what she can hear. When I see her she comments that she can’t remember things and is constantly confused, and there she was, quoting back to me the point I made last week when we met and looked at some of the parables together… so cool!
Anyway, this is slightly beside the point. The thing is, that what i’ve learnt today from this reading and various encounters I’ve had, is that the single most important thing you can do is care- if you care for me, then I’ll listen to your opinion about all sorts of stuff and give it some weight; but if you don’t care, then your opinion isn’t worth much. So, when things are tough, the best thing to do is care for other people even more, that way they know your love and care are truly meant rather than just an overflow when things are going well.
And thats what grace is- love and care, shown when things are tough, and when its not deserved. Its the opposite of birthday presents and runs counter to much of our human intuition. Its rarely fair and we often struggle to receive it, let alone offer it to others, which is exactly why its God’s department rather than ours.