The Vulnerable Sheep
Why is Jesus walking around with a sheep cradled between his neck and back? I’ve always been curious about this depiction. I am more used to Jesus cradling a small sheep in his lap, a very loving, cuddly kind of cradling a baby lamb. Most of us probably prefer that image. Meanwhile, I am stuck on this image and my neck hurts just thinking about that sheep making me uncomfortable. I can barely stand a collar around my neck!
And then there are Pope Francis’ words reminding us that any good shepherd should “smell like the sheep.” Another discomfort! I know what cows and pigs smell like. I must admit sheep smells have not been in my experience!
And then I remember a reflection once offered by a wise Sister companion of mine. She said that a shepherd often can spot the sheep that is going to be the “ring leader for mischief” or the recalcitrant one. This is the sheep that will start a revolt, or at least cause great consternation and suffering for the shepherd and the rest of the sheep.
That same shepherd who can identify the one needing attention, also knows from experience what the sheep needs in order to “hear the voice” of the shepherd. Sometimes we have a hard time recognizing the voice of someone who wishes us well, while challenging us to be all that God wants us to be.
In order to recognize the voice, the sheep must be close, must be carried, must become dependent on the shepherd. In order to accomplish that the shepherd breaks a leg of the sheep and begins to carry it. The sheep becomes vulnerable.
Perhaps we also need the Good Shepherd to carry us in our vulnerability. All of us experience some kind of “brokenness.” Some heals readily. Others need God’s attention. Jesus reminds us of God’s love and care for us, even when the suffering is intolerable. And for us, following Jesus means that we must stand with, we must act for the good of all, especially those in most need, the most vulnerable among us.
Who are the shepherds in your life? Who is leading, guiding, protecting and nurturing you? How do hurt and suffering contribute to our capacity to hear God’s voice in the midst of it?