http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20030510/1023301.asp (COPY AND PASTE)



One sheep is as good as the other


The Rev. Douglas L. Stewart graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 1994. He and his wife Joanne have served as co-pastors of St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Grand Island since 1996 after serving separate parishes in Pennsylvania. He currently serves on the Synod Council of the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

When you think of Jesus, what image comes to mind? If you're into birds, then the picture of the dove rapidly descending upon Jesus at his baptism appeals to you. Maybe you prefer a good action scene where Jesus is "duking" it out with a few malcontented demons. For you Food Network junkies, the picture of Jesus feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and some fish might be your cup of tea.

Do you like boats? We've got stories of Jesus sailing and sleeping in boats. Is meteorology your thing? How does Jesus stilling a storm and calming the waves at sea sound to you? Is botany your bailiwick? Then Jesus describing himself as a vine and his people as branches might be an image that grows on you. Maybe you're a connoisseur of bread. Then Jesus as the bread of life is all you need.

Whatever the image you prefer of Jesus, there can be no denying that the one of Jesus as a shepherd is paramount. After all, Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep. He is the protector and we are the protected. He lays down his life, and we have life in abundance.

Jesus as the "good shepherd" is a well-known image in the church, perhaps too well known. As with anything, familiarity can cause us to take things for granted. Familiarity can cause us to water things down. In my familiarity with the "good shepherd" image, it is very easy to see myself as one of God's sheep protected and loved by the shepherd.

But when you tell me that my enemy is also one of the sheep loved by the same shepherd, the story becomes a bit offensive. When you tell me that the person who looks, believes and lives different from me in every way is also one of the shepherd's sheep, the story becomes downright scandalous. Aren't some sheep more desirable than others in the eyes of the shepherd? After all, I'm a good person. I'm in church most Sundays. I sing all the hymns in church. And hey, I've never killed anybody. That's got to be worth some kind of extra credit in the eyes of God.

Yet all we are told by Jesus is that he is the good shepherd who has come to give life in abundance to his sheep. Nowhere in the story does Jesus indicate that any one group of sheep is his favorite. He talks about bringing other sheep into his fold, but nowhere does Jesus state his preference for one group of sheep over another. Jesus never classifies the sheep. So why do we?

Perhaps we learned how to classify sheep in church. Maybe we gave some of the other sheep names like Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Roman Catholic, just to name a few. And in so doing we learned more about what makes us different from each other than what we have in common.

Maybe we gave some of the other sheep names based upon the color of their skin or their sexual orientation. And in so doing we learned how to construct walls that divide rather than share what we have in common.

Regardless of where we learned how to classify and categorize sheep, we are told in Scripture that Jesus lays down his life for all the sheep. Regardless of where we learned how to construct walls that divide us, Scripture tells us that in Christ there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female. We are all one in Christ Jesus. Sounds like one sheep pasture to me.

And if it is true that we all live within the same sheep pasture, maybe I have a responsibility to the other sheep with whom I share this sacred space. Maybe I need to do my part in helping make the sheepfold a better place to live. Maybe we sheep need to look out for each other a little more. Maybe we sheep need to be little shepherds to each other. Martin Luther once called it being "Little Christs" to one other. And why not? We stand in the warmth and light of a God who loves us so much He sent His only son to die for us. All of us.