Who Isn’t Here?

Photo: Linda Fouquet
Photo: Linda Fouquet

The last field trip I chaperoned was when my youngest son was a senior in high school. The school’s wind ensemble was invited to a competition of other bands from around the Pacific Rim. We parent chaperones were assigned a specific group of kids to oversee. The kids were great. Mainly I herded kids from one location to another and made sure they were where they were supposed to be at night. My only question was, “Who isn’t here?”

That’s what stands out in the scripture passage for this fourth week of Easter. Almost everyone is familiar with this passage. So familiar that they don’t even glance at it when they encounter it or listen when they hear what passage is to be read. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep. But have you ever thought about who are the hired hands and who are the other sheep? That’s right, tucked in all that familiarity is a little nugget.

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (v.16) 

The gospel of John is full of stories of other sheep. The Samaritan woman Jesus approached at the well. The tax collectors who were hated for their unethical behaviors. Revolutionaries, lepers, disabled, homeless and addicted, immigrants, and a whole host of other sheep we’d rather not have to associate with, much less allow into our flock!

The other sheep that do not belong to this fold is what captivates my imagining. Those are the sheep who are not here. And who are they? This phrase reminds me that who belongs to the Jesus’ flock are beyond my imagining. There’s a remarkable expansiveness and inclusiveness that might be a calling for our generation. I cannot know all that God has in mind for those who walk or follow different paths. I do know that the Good Shepherd laid down his life for all the sheep and that mercy and grace are for all the sheep purely because of God’s abiding and eternal love.

I love the subtle reminder that almost gets missed,

The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. (v. 12-13)

We are not the shepherd, we are the sheep. When we make judgments as if we are the shepherd about what the sheep should look like or how the sheep should behave or what the sheep should believe or who the sheep are, we need to step back and remember we are not the shepherd. We are sheep. When we think we’re shepherds, we end up becoming hired hands!

No, I’m better off being a sheep who looks around for other sheep who are not here in the flock.

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