“When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.””(Matthew 28:36-38)
“The bush was always burning. It just took someone moving slow enough to notice it. You are being handed sermons all the time.” — Rob Bell, Festival of Homiletics, San Antonio, May 15, 2017
And quite often, at least in my experience, ‘sermons’ can be practically thrown at you, stopping you in your tracks, forcing you to pay attention. At least this was the case for me this week.
For while it is so that I don’t have any first hand experience of actual “sheep without a shepherd,” I experienced something a few days back which seemed to be a perfect parallel to the example Jesus offers now.
I had driven a friend into the airport for an early morning flight. I was on my way back through Chicago area rush hour traffic when suddenly the middle and left hand lanes were lit up with brake lights and I could hear my own tires screeching as I tried to stop in time. There they were — an entire flock of Canadian geese meandering across the highway, causing a whole lot of us who had been driving 60 mph or more just a moment before to feel our hearts pounding in our throats in our attempts to avoid a collision with the geese and one another. I have no idea how those geese — or the rest of us, for that matter — got out of this alive. (And I have to say I am only trusting that this was the case. The rest of the way home, I listened to a local station which reports the traffic conditions every ten minutes and there was no mention of geese or collisions at this particular place on Route 88 just west of Chicago.)
Sheep without a shepherd. Geese without a leash. I mean seriously, who was in charge of that particular flock of geese this last Friday morning? Which one had the bright idea to stroll through rushing rush hour traffic and led all the rest into harm’s way? For that matter, where did they think they were going? There is neither grass nor water in the median at that point in the highway. Only a cement barrier waited them on the other side. Without a doubt, they were only going to have to find their way back the way they had come. But perhaps even more than that, why were they walking in the first place? I mean, geese can fly, after all!
I know it is always insulting to compare animals or in this case, fowl, to human beings. And yet, in the moments that followed, once my heart rate slowed and I realized I had avoided near disaster both in front of me from those meandering geese and behind me from traffic which fortunately was able to brake as well, I continued to think about those geese. And it is so that I found myself feeling a little badly for them. For while it is so that they have adapted (many would say a little too well) to human population centers, they are still no match for car or truck traffic during rush hour. Or any other time for that matter.
Indeed, perhaps this is something like what Jesus witnessed when he looked out at the crowds and had compassion for them so long ago. For I expect he saw people wandering into harm’s way in all kinds of ways, many of them (like those geese) perhaps completely oblivious to the danger they were putting themselves (and others) in. He must have — he must still — look at us and wonder just what it is we are thinking or whose ‘bird brain’ idea it was to do whatever it is we are doing which likely could harm ourselves as well as anyone else who finds herself careening down the highway having to violently brake to avoid the impending disaster our thoughtless, self-centered, sinful behavior has made far too likely. Perhaps Jesus finds his heart in his throat sometimes, too — only not for fear for his own safety, but for ours. All of ours.
And yes, while it is, without a doubt, insulting to compare fowl to human beings, it is worth noting that Jesus still sees all of us ‘clueless fowl’ as worth saving — as part of a harvest of plenty which God yearns to bring home. And it is worth noting that he calls you and me to be part of this marvelous effort to bring a word of good news which will ensure not only the safety but the profound well-being of all those whose choices sometimes result in God’s heart being in God’s throat. And it seems to me as well that it is worth noting, that Jesus’ response was not one of anger, but of compassion. And so must ours be as we heed his urging to go and share words of promise as we go out as “laborers into the harvest” bringing healing and hope. So must ours be.
- What do you think? Does the metaphor of meandering geese work as a parallel to the example in today’s Gospel? Would it speak in your context? Why or why not?
- Jesus’ response to the ‘sheep without a shepherd’ was first one of compassion. How are you and I called to emulate that? What does that look like in our response to a world of lost sheep or meandering geese or wandering people today?
- Although I don’t explore it in depth above, one of the things which struck me as I continued to drive west is that those geese who are made to fly, did not fly. And so I wonder how often we all ‘meander into trouble,’ in part because we do not recognize or we fail to use the very gifts God has given us. And I wonder how much of our call is to point this out and urge people to use, enjoy, and share the gifts God has already given them. What do you think? What sort of difference might that make all on its own?
- When have you been ‘stopped in your tracks and handed a ‘sermon?’ Does it happen often? What do you think — are we being ‘handed sermons’ all the time?