May 2020

The Sacrificial Shepherd

4th Sunday of Easter, May 3, 2020
1st Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

The First Letter of Peter, written through the hands of his secretary Silvanus, was mindful of the household hierarchy of First Century Rome, which in turn, modeled the hierarchy of the empire; a hierarchy where men ruled the roost that included wives, children and male and female slaves. The letter was directed to the churches in Asia Minor, which makes up modern-day Turkey, and to Christians who assumed every level of this hierarchy.

If Christians were the male masters, they were implored to treat their wives as equals and their children and slaves with compassion, as Christ would do. If they were the wives or subordinates to a non-Christian master whose actions were contrary to the behavior of Christ, they were encouraged to peacefully resist such behavior suffering the blows and hardships as Christ suffered crucifixion and death on the cross, trusting that their endurance would be divinely rewarded.

The image of the Good Shepherd, employed by both the epistle of Peter and the gospel of John, poses a resistance to the hierarchies of the world that are bolstered by the brute force of financial greed and military might, and that resist the realm of God headed by the peaceful Good Shepherd, Christ Jesus, who sacrifices his life to protect his flock.

However, many Christians both then and now have puzzled over the question, “What happens to the flock when their shepherd and protector is sacrificed?”

For the early Christians, especially before Christianity was accepted by Rome, the answer to this question was to assume the sacrificial character of their good Shepherd, and never return violence for violence, but to love even their enemies, those who hated, harmed and killed them, because they too were offspring of God. For early Christians, who lived both as citizens of God’s egalitarian realm of compassion, justice and peace and as subjects of worldly realms where compassion and justice were unfairly rendered and peace was never lasting, their calling was to live and die as children of God and followers of Christ in the hope that their example would lead others in the way of their Shepherd.

Centuries later, after the state has incorporated Christianity into the fabric of its hierarchy, the answer to this question is posed with a different orientation, specifically that if we love the way of Christ and the ideals it fosters so much, then we must be willing to fight and die to protect it and those we love.

This concept of Just War, in the wrong hands, has incited the worst human atrocities including the Crusades, the Thirty Years War, and the Holocaust. Yet was it not the same sentiment that inspired the Civil War against slavery and, to some extent, the European campaign of World War II against Nazi Germany? And more recently, did not this sentiment come into play as we considered how we might prepare for and respond to the possibility of gun violence occurring on the property of our church? Is the way of Christ and the ideals it fosters so important that we should be willing to fight and die to protect it and those we love?

As Christians, we continue to live both as citizens of God’s spiritual realm of peace and as subject of a worldly hierarchy bolstered by the brute force of financial greed and military might. Yet we must continue in striving to free ourselves from the mindset and behavior that God’s peace is something that must be violently defended trusting that, when all is said and done, the sacrificial love of God embodied in Christ Jesus, our good Shepherd, will be powerful enough to speak for and defend itself. Amen.