Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Eastertide Thoughts - 1, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Stained glass at St. John the Baptist's Anglican Church in Ashfield, New South Wales
Artist: Stained Glass, Alfred Handel, d. 1946; Photo, Toby Hudson.
From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

The Season of Easter—the fifty days following the Day of Resurrection—is “the high season” in the Church Year. Each Sunday brings a Gospel reading that reports one of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples following the Resurrection, or a passage in which Jesus describes himself in his divine form. The Fourth Sunday of Easter, for example, always features a reading from the Gospel according to John in which Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd.

The image of “Jesus as Shepherd” usually leads us to warm and fuzzy feelings based in memories of images from lovely stained-glass windows. However, being a shepherd is not nearly so idyllic and sublime as we might imagine.

In the time of Jesus shepherding was about as low on the social scale as you could get. Those shepherds in the fields watching over their flocks near Bethlehem were dirty, smelly, illiterate men who were often suspected of being thieves and bandits if not outright subversives. They were not part of “normal” society. They had to be tough and rugged, as their work involved not only protecting their sheep from predators but also getting down and dirty with them when they got into trouble or when they were birthing. The shepherds were as likely to be attacked by marauding animals and sheep-stealers as were their sheep.

And, guess what their primary source of food was.

Furthermore, sheep are stupid, skittish, foul-smelling herd animals.

So: which would you rather be, the shepherd or the sheep? And, why in the world would Jesus in any way compare himself to those shepherds of ill-repute? And what does this have to do with Easter, of all things?!? There may be a sermon in all this someplace . . . .


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