Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Like Sheep Without A Shepherd

This week's scriptures are Matthew 9: 35-38 and 10: 16-25.

Matthew 9:36 tells us that as Jesus went about in the cities and villages and saw the crowds "he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

Now, as a prelude to understanding this verse it might be helpful to notice what Matthew records Jesus has having been up to before this verse and his sending out of his disciples: he's cleansed a leper, healed a centurion's servant, healed Peter's mother-in-law (and those who came to the house when they heard about it), stilled a storm, healed a paralytic, been ranted at by the Pharisees for hanging out with sinners, raised a dead girl, healed a woman who was hemorraging, given two blind men their sight, and given a mute man back his voice....and that's just in the space between this verse and 8:1! No wonder, being faced with this overwhelming expression of human suffering, that Jesus would look at his disciples and say 'the harvest is plentiful...ask God to send help.'

Jesus looked around him and was acutely conscious of the state of 'harasssed helplessness' of those who came to him. What do harassed sheep do? The become nervous. They may run in circles. They flock closer together. Except if they're seperated. Then a sheep will become paralyzed and lay down. This is why we see pictures of the 'Good Shepherd' carrying the sheep. The creature has frozen and cannot even respond to the voice of the shepherd (which it will do under other conditions). I'm reminded of experiments done on traumatized mice. They were shocked without any ability to escape their cage...then they were put in a cage with the door open...having been exposed to this inescapable trauma, they would go to the corner of the open cage, huddle down, and not move to escape further shock---even though there was now a door open for them.

How many of us know people like that? How many of us, if we're honest, have places in our lives where we are like that?

Frightened, frozen, unable to see the doorway(s) to freedom. We ask ourselves, perhaps, "can't they hear God saying that they are loved? Can't they hear the shepherd's voice?" But the honest answer is "no, they can't." In my work as a therapist, I often see traumatized clients who's entire early life had been a case of "inescapable shock." You know them too. The battered spouse, the grown up abused child, the abandoned one.

This is the 'harvest' that Jesus was talking about. It wasn't about 'saving souls' when a few verses later Jesus sent out his disciples. He sent them out saying, "proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons" (10:7-8)-these, by the way, were the things Jesus had just been doing. The coming of the kingdom meant that human needs were being met. Illness was cured, alienation releaved, voices long silences were being heard.

As we look at our world; as Broadneck explores the new opening phase of its life; can we hear Jesus saying, 'Look! there's work to be done...ask God to send help' and can we realize that, just like the disciples...that help is us.

Hope to see you on the water Sunday for our outing.


Anonymous said...

In that same passage, I like the idea that was put forth in one of the commentaries we read Monday night. In helping with the harvest - going out like sheep among wolves - pretty much illustrates a miracle in the works! As we work in the world to help the wounded( whether flayed, prostrate, downtrodden, or any of the various meanings of the Greek), it seems like we are to expect these miraculous things. Matthew seems to suggest that the "doing" itself is a pretty amazing thing.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea that sheep would become paralyzed when separated from the flock. It's a very sad image, as is the one of the traumatized rats huddling in the corner. The image of Jesus carrying the sheep then reminded me of the poem "Footprints" - "...it was then that I carried you."

But it makes sense that sometimes God needs us to help do that.