Good and Bad Shepherds, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  Christ the Good Shepherd

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EASTER, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Almighty God, who shows to those in error the light of your truth,

to the intent that they may return to the way of righteousness:

Grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,

that they may avoid those things that are contrary to their profession,

and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same;

through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 119

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Ezekiel 34:11-16, 30-31

Psalm 44

1 Peter 2:19-25

John 10:11-16

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The reading from 1 Peter takes on a different meaning when one backs up one verse to 2:18:

Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle, but also those who are harsh.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Yes, I understand the differences between Roman slavery and race-based chattel slavery, but I contend that no form of slavery is compatible with Christianity, despite the accommodations the Church has made to varieties of slavery in various places over time.  Kyrie eleison.  As for the use of Christ’s sufferings to argue for submission even to harsh masters, I rebut that slave rebellions are justifiable.

The theme of shepherds unites Ezekiel 34 and John 10.  In Ezekiel 34, taken as a whole, we read condemnations of bad kings, spoken of metaphorically as shepherds.  We read also of God as the good shepherd.  This language applies to Jesus in John 10:14f.  And why not?  Do we Christians not affirm that Jesus was divine?

Psalm 44 is a national lament following defeat by an unidentified foe.  Scholarly educated guesses place the text as early as the Babylonian Exile and as late as the time of the Maccabees/Hasmoneans.  More interestingly, though, the psalmist understands defeat as to have occurred despite national fidelity to God, not because of collective, persistent sin (verses 17-19).  The text reflects the impression that God is hiding the divine face from the nation as it seeks divine assistance.

One might interpret Psalm 44 more than one way.  Perhaps the psalmist is accurate.  Or maybe he misconstrues the situation.  Either way, the sense of abandonment by God is palpable.  Sometimes the righteous suffer because of or despite their righteousness, after all.

I refuse to offer false and simplistic answers to this difficult question.  I do, however, conclude the way the author of Psalm 44 does:  seek God.  When I bring other readings to bear on the matter, I say, seek God, who incarcerated as one of us, who is our Good Shepherd, and whose ways we cannot fully comprehend.

To whom else can we turn?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 18, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF MARC BOEGNER, ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIULIA VALLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ISAAC HECKER, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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