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John 10:11,14 – Do You Want Fries With Those Sheep?

August 8, 2012

“Do you want fries with that?” I say “yes” even when ordering at Coldstone. Not just anybody can do the things that nobody wants to do. When something looks easy, we’re watching someone very good at what they’re doing – even if no one else recognizes or respects it. Take any fast food place. An okay summer job? Sure. A life? Most people aim higher. But for some, fast food work is a life. Anyone watching a crew working at 5 PM on “29 cent taco” night sees a team of Picassos of picante doing what they do best; they move with the precision of a NASCAR pit crew. Taxi drivers, convenience store clerks and even newspaper carriers carry the marks and pride of professionals – people who bring the extra mile of excellence to whatever they do because they simply don’t know any other way. Meet Leroy; he delivered our newspaper for a while. A delivery problem of some kind popped up and I reported it. The next day I found our paper on the back steps of the house and it continued to show up there for quite a few days. I thought, “This guy is bugged because I reported a delivery problem and now he’s making me walk around the house in winter to get the paper.” He came so early that we never saw him while I stewed about this. One morning as I loaded up our stuff in the car for the day, the paper carrier whipped in the driveway. I stood cocked and loaded for this moment. As I walked up in the dark, the carrier stuck out his hand and said, “Hi, I’m Leroy. Listen, I’m sorry about your paper. Someone must have stolen it. I’ve been careful to put it in the back so you’d get it. Have you found it okay?” He was being professional; I was being a donkey (professional grade). I later gave him a McDonald’s gift card for coffee on those cold, dark early mornings. My wife just smiled and said, “You feel guilty, don’t you?” It’s always healthy when the guilty feel guilt.

As it is with paper carriers and burger flippers, so it was with shepherds in biblical times. Shepherding made up the bottom rung on the respect for work ladder. If health didn’t allow for honest work, a man begged; in many parts of the world today, beggars are professionals. But if a man could work but had no real skills at all, chances were good he would wind up a shepherd. They spent all their time out on the hillsides, moving sheep to good pasture according to the season. They were often held in general contempt and people rarely thought anything about them unless it was to complain about the shortage of wool and meat for the marketplace. But shepherds were far from stupid. They could read the weather without Skycam Doppler 7000 because nobody spent more time reading the sky and feeling the wind. They practiced animal medicine knowing how to deliver a lamb gone breech or coming early. They knew some grasses to be noxious, even poisonous, endangering their animals. They could splint broken bones on sheep or each other. They slept with them and fought for them. In those days, predators like lions and bears lived in close proximity to the sheep. A hungry wolf or lion might not care much between a sheep and a shepherd; meat was meat. All they might have to go up against fangs and claws with would be a staff and a slingshot. On top of scars from maulings, the shepherd would also bear the cost of any sheep lost on his watch.

No wonder that, in the Christmas story, when the greatest news in history cried out to be told, God ran first to the shepherds. God  loved them in the face of the disrespect of everyone else. They were His kind of guys. He too would get no respect both from onlookers or the ones He cared for. “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11) As Jesus expands the “I AM” sayings in John showing us the multifaceted depth of God’s heart, the Creator of the Cosmos lines up beside spiritual burger flippers and paper carriers. He says that He, being God, is not only a shepherd but a good one.. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd, and I know my own and they know me.” (John 10: 11,14) Jesus could have made a nobler pick of animal for His analogy – Arabian stallions, muscular oxen. Jesus could have said, “I am an expert breeder of stallions that I sell to Arabians for top money.” His choice had more to do with us. Nothing quite describes the human condition like sheep.

They live for nothing but to fill their belly with whatever seems good to them at the moment. No matter that it might be poisonous or otherwise inedible. They keep foraging on whatever lies at the end of their nose until they lift their head only to find they’ve wandered off and now have no clue as to where they are. This foolish fixation on their own belly exposes them to every sort of danger which they are powerless to escape. In three words, they stand as dumb, unresponsive and ungrateful. Just like us; the malignant sinfulness breathing darkly in every heart wreaks this same damage. Even if we ignore or disbelieve it, sin always makes us pay. The dividends run large and the interest and penalty run high. And we blame the shepherd for a lot of it! God says, “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (Job 40:8) Absolutely.

We’ve heard Psalm 23 so often that we’re numb to how off-the-chart radical it is. Ancient gods of most cultures look like pro wrestlers or MMA freaks. They’re spoiled brats who flex their muscles and hang their hairy knuckles (In ancient pagan religions, even the goddesses had hairy knuckles. These were baaaaaaaad gods!) under the noses of their believers making brutal threats and forcing compliance through atrocity and intimidation. What about “part-the-Red Sea, fire-on-Mt Sinai, judge-of-the world” Yahweh of Israel? David, not only a king and an artist but a shepherd himself, wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..” (Psalm 23:1) When we step out against the Philistines of our world, we want our God to represent, to be snarly, fangs bared, foaming at the mouth and slobbering (Oh yes, with hair on the knuckles.). Anything else would be as ridiculous as sending out, well, a shepherd against the likes of the Goliaths of this world, on our campus. In John 10:11,14, Jesus ramps up Psalm 23 and seems to say, “I’m even better than David knew.”

“The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” If a shepherd died at the claws of a lion defending a sheep, that happened almost always without warning. Usually, a shepherd would avoid such an encounter and let the sheep die. Even his peers would think he did the sensible thing; one sheep wasn’t worth dying for. “Lays down” speaks of intentionality, of forethought, of a carefully calculated laying down of the shepherd’s life for something no one else would think worth it. Like us. The atoning death of Jesus Christ, God made man, on the cross stands absolutely without parallel or peer among all religions, philosophies and spiritualities. It stares us down. Do all religions really say the same thing? Is that a pseudo intellectual cop-out? Sheer ignorance driven by subliminal avoidance issues? The cross of Christ screams out that the fundamental problem with human history, underlying the framework of every culture and country ever mapped and every subculture of the university – is that we’re sinful sheep. The good shepherd became one of the sheep to face the bear’s jaws alone on our behalf.

Sheep, we’ve seen one we’ve seen ’em all. Right? The good shepherd knows His sheep. He sees the ram that broke its leg two years ago up in the highlands. He remembers setting that leg in the middle of a snow storm. He still can spot the slight limp in that leg that keeps the ram from gaining full speed when he butts heads with other rams. He remembers that pregnant ewe as a lamb who was breeched and almost didn’t make it; now she’ll soon be a mom herself. I remember a young guy trying to win a football scholarship to a major college; his arm was a rifle. Whether the pass travelled fifty yards or five, he fired full-bore. They almost had to stop games so they could take crowbars and pry the ball out of people’s chests. He had no touch. Jesus know His sheep. He thinks sheep are cool. He has touch, sensitivity to our personalities, hopes and dreams, His image in us, our gifts, our histories. He knows how brittle and weak we can be (Psalm 103:14) and how we’ve disappointed ourselves (no disappointment is worse). He knows us as a one-of-a-kind in all the space and time continuum of history. He prays for us when we don’t know it and don’t care. And He smiles when He thinks of us, sometimes through tears – but He smiles.

The new semester gets close. A lot of us are going back early to help freshman move in. What a great Kingdom opportunity; I hope a lot of us took advantage of it. We’ve almost made it through the summer. If you think this will help a college student make the last couple of weeks, then share, subscribe, follow, tweet and all that social network stuff.

Please return your seat to the upright position and give your infrared night vision goggles back to the attendant as you exit to the rear. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.

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