In the Company of Sheep

Jesus was a good teacher; good in this sense being both moral and effective. Among his many gifts was the ability to tell stories, which were insightful as well as entertaining. Sometimes, when his themes relied on humor, the laughs came at the expense of his political and religious adversaries, whose elite status he disabused in ways that delighted his far less powerful audience. Ultimately his stories changed lives and in so doing eventually changed the cultures in which his teaching was put into daily practice by those who were faithful to the message.

Even if we set aside his claim to deity, he proves to be an ethical healer concerned with the wellbeing of the anonymous masses he termed the salt of the earth. Lacking affluence and political clout, they were the people whose troubles he sought to alleviate. He did this by impressing on the people’s hearts, minds and souls the importance of influence instead of power, guidance instead of command.

His was not just a tutorial commission, however. And without making any promises of attaining wealth, good health or prestige he enticed others to follow his methods based on one word, sacrifice. Then he carried out this line of thought to its logical conclusion, making Calvary the ultimate example of his self-denying perspective. Love of self was left to his executioners.

His last recorded story was punctuated by an illustration of a King, who divided his people into two groups in the same way a shepherd divides his herds, separating the sheep from the goats. The distinction between the two types of animals is easy to understand based on their physiology. The distinction between the two groups of people the animals symbolized was based on something far more subtle, their service to others.

To be in the company of the sheep was to be blessed. The people who comprised this group were praised for helping others by providing the essential elements, which determine one’s quality of life: food, clothing, shelter and fellowship. No frills. No fame. Just the fundamentals for a sustainable lifestyle. The practitioners of this philosophy of ministry were subsequently referred to by others as those who have turned the world upside down.

Fast forward to the present day when a pandemic has forced us into an eerie isolation only to be eclipsed by a political upheaval, which has compromised the integrity of both our governing leadership and those who report on their actions. People are afraid of both the present and the future due to the unending nature of the corona virus, the violence accompanying protests about racial injustice and the consequences of the upcoming presidential election. Proposed solutions, made in the form of accusations, abound.

Despite the political rhetoric which permeates the various media outlets, what is needed cannot be found in another government defined program. What we need can only be found in the company of sheep, who meet needs on a very personal and practical level.  Here we can excel at ministering in light of the present conditions, not cowering under the intimidating pressures they present.

It is best to find one’s self in the company of sheep. They have an agenda beyond reproach.

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