One of the most powerful and evocative images we have of Jesus is Jesus as a shepherd. Indeed Jesus describes himself as “the good shepherd” in todays gospel (John 10: 11). The gospel narratives are littered with parables and images of Jesus in this role. So much so that a preacher can quickly run out of all available sheep and shepherd images before running out of Biblical text.
In todays narrative from John’s gospel we read about how Jesus describes his relationship to the sheep in his care. He says that the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for the sheep. A hired hand or someone else, does not have the same investment or connection with the sheep in their care. Rather when danger approaches the hired help runs away (v. 12-13). The good shepherd on the other hand, stays and remains committed to the point of dying for the sheep. What does this say about Jesus and of him being the good shepherd?
The question that is automatically raised for me is, “what are we willing to die for?” Today we read of Jesus laying down his life for sheep. Recently we have just come through Holy Week where Jesus dies. This seems to be a natural question for us to ponder at this time. What are we willing to die for? If Jesus is willing to die for us, are we willing to die for him? Quickly I am sure, the longer we ponder this question the realization sinks in that there is perhaps very little that we are willing to die for. We may at best, hope that under certain circumstances we may be willing to make such a sacrifice, but even this is not a guarantee in the heat of the moment.
While going through seminary and my studies for the priesthood from time to time a professor or field placement supervisor would ask us students to choose wisely the ditch or ditches we are willing to die in. This was often in reference to the many challenges, preoccupations and decisions that we inevitably need to make in parish ministry. The point being no one person or cleric can be invested in absolutely everything. There are some things that need to be left alone or that do not warrant a lot of our time and energy, such as who has the key to the church coffee and why is that locked up in the first place. . . The reality is there are things that are left to fall off the side of our desks either intentionally or not. You will no doubt recognize many of these examples in your own professional and personal lives as well.
Choosing the ditch or ditches to die in causes us to pay attention to what is really at stake and what really warrants our time and energy at any given time. In other words, don’t sweat the small stuff. It is the ‘big picture, the end goal’ that is important. Choosing our ditch requires us to hold onto what really is important and not to let ourselves or the Church get caught up and distracted with the smaller details that will inevitably work themselves out.
Perhaps, just perhaps this is an appropriate passage for us to reflect on today and to consider the absolutes in our lives and those elements that we cannot live without. Perhaps it is a good time for this reflection especially now where we find ourselves living in a world with so much uncertainty and many more ditches that could take our time, energy and indeed our very lives. We live in uncertain times as a church and as a society where now, more than ever, we need to focus and identify those aspects of our daily life, society and church that are worthy of our lives. The rest, quite frankly, becomes commentary and details that may or may not apply to the big picture and the vision we wish to live into.