Urban Legends and Good Shepherds

Scripture Focus: John 10.11-15
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Reflection: Urban Legends and Good Shepherds
By John Tillman

In the 90s, listening to Phil Keaggy, I heard a story from a friend.

“Phil’s the world’s greatest guitarist. One night, on Johnny Carson, Jimi Hendrix was asked, ‘What’s it like to be the world’s greatest guitarist?’ He said, ‘I don’t know. Ask Phil Keaggy.’”

“So cool,” I thought at the time. I spread the tale often as I shared my love of Phil Keaggy.

Years later I heard another Keaggy fan begin the same story. I was shocked when, instead of Jimi Hendrix, it was Eddie Van Halen on the talk show. Every other detail was identical. My heart fell. I realized the stories weren’t true.

To put it kindly, they were urban legends. To be more direct, they were lies. Lies I had spread over and over. I felt sick and angry. My friends and I had been duped.

Worse than urban legends about guitarists are urban legends about God. Recently, I was reminded of an old “preacher story” about shepherds and lambs.

Supposedly, a shepherd would break a wandering lamb’s leg and carry it as the leg healed. By caring for the lamb and holding it close, it would bond with him and never wander again. This act of “tough love” allegedly explained how God wounds us to keep us close to him. Authoritative and abusive leaders have used this metaphor to justify “wounding” parishioners with “tough love” because they are “good shepherds.”

To put it kindly, this metaphor is a myth—a “rural legend” instead of an “urban” one. To be more direct, it is a lie. Nowhere in records of animal husbandry or the Bible is there a description of shepherds breaking the legs of sheep in this way. Worse than damaging our understanding of human shepherds, this story damages our understanding of Jesus, the true good shepherd.

Don’t be duped into thinking that Jesus treats his sheep in this way. Abusive “hired hands” may wound their sheep or leave them unprotected from the wolves. But Jesus, the good shepherd, rushes in to face the wolf.

Jesus doesn’t heal our wandering by breaking our legs. Jesus lays down his life for the sheep and by his stripes, we are healed. Jesus’ body is broken for his sheep, and by him we are whole.

You may have been wounded by a foolish or wicked shepherd. But you can still be healed by Jesus, the good shepherd.

Music: “Jesus Is The Great Shepherd” from Live From Lawrence, Kansas (November 1974) by Phil Keaggy and Paul Clark

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory. — Psalm 50.2

Today’s Readings
Genesis 11 (Listen 7:19)
John 10 (Listen 4:44)

Read more about Tendencies of Unfaithful Shepherds
May we, and our shepherds be more like Jesus. May we seek and support earthly shepherds like him.

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Setting Aside the Scriptures

John 10.35
Scripture cannot be set aside…

Reflection: Setting Aside the Scriptures
By John Tillman

The Greek word translated “set aside,” (lyō) carries an implication beyond not ignoring the parts of the Bible we don’t like. It refers to unbinding or untying things bound together for a purpose. This would include untying the thongs of sandals (as used by John the Baptist), loosening bandages (as used by Jesus regarding Lazarus) or even the bonds of marriage (as referenced by Paul). It also applies metaphorically to dissolving any kind of union or agreement, declaring something unlawful, dissolving the authority of someone or something, or destruction by breaking apart into pieces, a meaning Jesus used referring to the destruction of the temple.

The negative, that Scripture cannot be “untied,” implies the positive, that Scripture is tied together for a purpose. The reason that we cannot set aside the Scriptures that we don’t like, is that Scripture must be considered holistically. Each part is bound up with the others for a purpose.

Considering all of Scripture together without breaking it apart requires patience and a deep familiarity with Scripture. The religious leaders were setting aside scriptures that were inconvenient or required sacrifice on their part. We do this as well, however modern Christians are “setting aside” the Scripture in a different way—by not reading it.

This is one of the reasons we desire to encourage daily Bible reading. Any increase of Bible reading is a benefit and blessing for the reader, but following a plan such as ours, that covers the entire Bible at a sustainable pace is helpful for our need to interpret the Bible together as one piece.

Jesus once chastised the Sadducees, saying ““You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God…” Are we in the same danger?

All devout Jews of that time discussed theology and spirituality based on a common, widespread knowledge of Scripture, and many would have large sections of the Pentateuch memorized. How well do we know the Scriptures?

Whether teaching his disciples, the crowds, or debating opponents, Jesus relied on his audiences’ deep familiarity with the Scriptures. Could Jesus do the same with us?  

Are we literate enough regarding Scripture to engage Jesus in a conversation about important theological concepts? Whatever your level of Bible literacy, ask the Holy Spirit to walk with you, as Jesus did with the Emmaus couple. Read as you walk and the Holy Spirit will help you understand the Scriptures.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments. — Psalm 119.10

Today’s Readings
Exodus 31 (Listen – 2:32)
John 10 (Listen – 4:44)

Thank You!
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Read more about It’s In The Bible
“Well, it’s right there in the Bible, so it must not be a sin. But it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick…” — Rich Mullins

Read more about Cultivation Is Supernatural
A stronger faith, and a greater crop yield comes when we invest in cultivation. Cultivation is not natural. It is supernatural.

Joy to the Full :: Joy of Advent

John 10.10
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Reflection: Joy to the Full :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

It is tempting to scramble all the scriptural sheep similes and parables into a mutton metaphor stew. But they don’t necessarily all apply to each other or mean the same thing. In today’s reading of the good shepherd parable we see signs of Christ’s advent and the gifts that he brings as the good shepherd.

Christ tells us that his advent as the good shepherd has a purpose—life to the full. Some translations say “abundant life” and some a “full and satisfying life.” Our problem is that our culture yawns at satisfying. Satisfactory is next to failing. But the secret to joy is in being satisfied, living “to the full.”

This isn’t to say the abundant life Christ promises is going to shortchange us. As we said at the beginning of Advent, we don’t need to lower our expectations, we need to raise our expectations above material things.

Christ the good shepherd comes with the abundant satisfaction that his sheep need. Rest. Food. Protection. Guidance. The gifts of the good shepherd are associated with recognizing the presence of the shepherd and Christ gives us two ways to recognize him.

The first is the manner of his coming. He comes in through the door. He IS the door. He enters our lives in a way that no one else can with a power no one else has and a purpose no one else can fulfill. When he comes in through the gate, it is his purpose for us to go in and out the gate with him.

This is not a reference to death or Heaven, but to companionship, and to being led to pasture in the scripture. When we walk through the scriptures together as a community, it is not our writers we follow. It is the Holy Spirit, our good shepherd.

The second is by his voice. In Advent and throughout our lives, we walk by scripture and prayer. The scriptures tune our ears to recognize Christ’s voice. Prayer teaches how to listen for it.

What are we waiting for?
In Advent we wait as sheep in the darkness. We have only one task. Know the shepherd’s voice. Follow it. Listen for the one who comes in the door, leading us with his tender voice into the Word and into the world.

Prayer: Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.  — Psalm 85:9

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 7 (Listen – 1:57)
John 10 (Listen – 4:44)

Additional Reading
Read More about Expectation Affects Anticipation :: Hope of Advent
When it comes to our expectations of Advent, we don’t need to manage them by lowering them. We need to raise them above temporal, earthly, material matters. We already know that what we receive will be beyond what we can ask for or imagine.

Read More about One Thing Needed
These female disciples each are immature in their own way when we first meet them. But in their final appearances in scripture, they abandon all for Christ, risking financial security, risking reputation, risking their lives to honor him. They show us, perhaps more clearly than other disciples, what it means to find in Christ, our “one thing.”

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