Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | April 16, 2018

You are known

Countries and cultures often create a picture of themselves, using symbol and metaphor. Norwegians see themselves as Vikings, Central Americans recall the images of Inca and Maya warriors. Sometimes countries use animals as cultural symbols—eagle, lion, jaguar, wolf, stork, horse, camel, bear, owl, elephant. Not a single country lists a sheep as its national animal. Pity the poor sheep—not very emblematic; not regal or fierce; not large or imposing. They are fairly docile, susceptible to predators, and not the sharpest knives in the animal drawer.

Even so, sheep are valuable, and they were extremely important to an agrarian society like the one in which Jesus lived. They were important to the survival of families, providing meat, milk, leather, wool.

The shepherd was low on the status ladder, but nevertheless a vitally important member of society. He’d watch over the sheep of many different owners and they’d travel many miles to get to green pastures so they wouldn’t overgraze. He lived with them 24/7, keeping them together and protecting them from wild animals or thieves. And he wasn’t supposed to lose any of them.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…” [from John 10]

When the scriptures use the metaphor of the good shepherd, we are encouraged to think of being protected, and of being known.

When sheep wander off from the flock they can get into trouble. They get confused by not being with the others, and they will do anything to try to get back. It’s their instinct.

They are not unlike humans in this sense. We can get into trouble by doing whatever the crowd does, and we can also get into plenty of trouble by ourselves, by leaving those who love and care about us behind.

In either case, it can be really b-a-a-a-a-d.

The metaphor in John about the good shepherd is significant, especially to an agrarian culture: a good shepherd will protect us. We know that bad things still happen. But we are also encouraged to remember that we are not just one of the crowd. We are not nameless sheep. Every single life, every single heart, is important.

This sense of being important to God is best, and most often, expressed to us through the caring acts of those around us.

Anna May Chain is a Karen Baptist theologian from Burma (Myanmar). After Japanese occupation of her country ended in 1945, the Christian minority feared for their lives because of outlier Buddhist-related mobs. Her family was taken in by Muslims (who put their own safety at risk), sheltered in a mosque and safe houses. For their protection they were placed in a prison where some Buddhist friends bravely brought them food, medicine, and clothing. Eventually they were cared for in a Catholic convent, though Anna’s family was Protestant. Despite their religious differences, all these people, she says, showed the caring of God to them.

Every congregation I know has some type of list of people to pray for—by name. We have people we check on. We have family, we have church, we have neighbors, we have friends. They know our names.

We are known. And that knowledge itself is not just psychologically pleasant and reassuring. It is, in ways that we don’t even understand, protective. black and white lamb 2,LR adjusted, copyright, low, blog 4-18

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018

 

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