The Call to Be a Shepherd
I was on one of those walks, one of those discernment walks where you’re hoping to hear from God. I had my small Bible with me. I had been reading through Matthew’s Gospel. I walked to the park a few blocks from our newly-wed duplex. We had been married only a few months. And I was only a few months more than that into a discernment process, something of a vision quest. I felt like God might be leading me to be a pastor—maybe. Pieces were coming together. That day, sitting at a picnic table in a park in my hometown of Canyon, Texas, I read an important piece:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. –Mt. 9:36
That verse, set in the context of a description of Jesus’ kingdom ministry and followed by his declaration that the Lord wants workers in his harvest field, worked its way into my soul and became part of my calling. To this day that image of Jesus having compassion on the harassed and helpless sheep in need of a shepherd’s leading continues to inform my pastoral vocation. But is that all there is?
The Call to Be a Sheep
“What is there about the life and teaching of Jesus that speaks most powerfully to you?”
That question came to me in a morning quiet time recently. I was reading a devotion rooted in the life and teaching of St. Ignatius and his reflections on the life of Jesus. It’s a fair question: What about Jesus’ life and teaching is especially meaningful to me? The problem is, I didn’t know how to answer it. And this troubled me…deeply. I don’t think I’d ever tried to answer it really.
I’d progressed from a childhood “Jesus is my friend who loves me” to that young decision “He’s the way to heaven” and the deep teen years of “He’s the God-man” and then the young adult “He cares for the poor and needy” and recently, as a pastor doing doctoral work in mystical theology, “Jesus is the bright revelation of the dark mystery of God.”
But what about Jesus’ life and teaching speaks most powerfully to me? To me? Not to the books or movements I’m currently into, to the authors and musicians and preachers and teachers I’m absorbing lately? But to me? Not even to the sermon I’m working on or the study I’m preparing for or even the book I’m writing? Just me?
I guess it comes back to the childhood “Jesus is my friend who loves me.” And that friendship and love are revealed in his compassion for me, that I am harassed and helpless like a sheep without a shepherd. I had gotten so caught up in being a shepherd, spent so many years in the training and vocation of pastor, that I forgot what it was to be a sheep—if I ever really knew. Now it began to dawn on me: The Lord is my shepherd…
So Jesus calls me, even me, to be part of his life and teaching, to be part of him. He leads me and teaches me. He tells me his stories about a kingdom, about the heirs of that kingdom, about life in the kingdom as a steward and builder and even as a child of the King.
But it’s me he wants to lead and teach—not some abstract, generic, and even profound movement or thinker or leader. This is what it is for Robert to be loved and to love. This is what I need to do to live freely and faithfully, using my gifts and personality and passions and desires to follow him and be his student and his friend. To my shock, I am only at the beginning—the beginning of the journey through green pastures and still waters and right paths, the journey through the valley of death’s shadow and into the presence of my enemies, the journey with anointed head and overflowing cup into the house of the Lord.
I come as a sheep to the Good Shepherd. I come as a child to my Friend. It’s ok to say it, to believe it, to live it: Jesus loves me, this I know…