Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Good Shepherd PROTECTS his sheep

I want to share with you some wonderful words of Jesus: 

“My sheep . . . follow me 
and they shall never perish, 
and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. 
My Father, who has given them to me, 
is greater than all, 
and no one is able to snatch them 
out of the Father’s hand.”
(John 10:28-29)

It was important that the shepherd protect his sheep from their natural enemies. You remember the Old Testament story of David and Goliath, and how David explains to King Saul that he was used to risking his life to protect the sheep from wild animals such as lions and bears.


Jesus came that we might have life abundantly - life in its fulness. He says that in John 10 - the Good Shepherd chapter. And isn't it great when everything's going well . . . You know those times when our circumstances and relationships are all happy, we have enough resources to meet our needs, and spiritually - on the inside - we feel so close to God. I'd much rather be experiencing that than the opposite. But - and I don’t want to sound gloomy - I have to remind you that in our Baptism, when we were merged with the dying and rising of Jesus so as to live his risen life, we embarked on a lifelong conflict with sin, the world, and the devil, even as we seek to be used by God in the transformation of the world in which we live. And that means we began a sacrificial life. So, from the very beginning we knew that at least some of the time it’s going to be a real struggle!

Those who think otherwise should just take note from the experience of Jesus himself and what the Bible says about the way we share what he went through, that Christianity is no insurance policy against Gethsemanes and Calvaries!

On top of that, we face tragedies and traumas that shake our lives to their foundations, that mercilessly challenge our faith to the point where we wonder how long we can hold on without giving up or going insane. Some people face deep depression on a daily basis, and are dogged with all sorts of fears and complexes. Do you know that sinking feeling . . . as if everything you have done amounts to nothing, as if there is no more point in your life, and you feel like giving up in despair?

Let's be realistic and let's be honest; let's admit the problems we sometimes have.


In those circumstancess, as well as getting all the help we can from counsellors and doctors, and together with allowing our brothers and sisters in Christ to support us with their love and prayer, we need to remember - and perhaps even speak out aloud so as to counter our depression and fear and our ancient enemy the devil - the wonderful promises God makes in his Word about his presence and support. Now, please don’t think I am being simplistic; and, whatever you do, don’t think that I am not speaking from my own experience. I know about those times when all the counselling and help have failed, and God’s promises are all we have left. But  . . . what a resource! Deliberately reminding ourselves of God’s promises is how so many have survived the deepest traumas. It’s how we remain still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10) and not do anything stupid. Believing his promises, (often tenaciously and falteringly at the same time!) helps us to keep our cool long enough to see how God is working in the situation. We calm down, and remind ourselves that he really IS sovereign. We “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:17).

Because, what I know about Jesus is that he doesn't speak to us from somewhere "outside" what we are going through, but from the heart of the struggle where we, in fact, discover his loving presence in a new way.


This is how all those persecuted brothers and sisters of ours have coped through two thousand years of savage treatment and even martyrdom. In times of darkness and suffering they remembered God’s promises and his faithfulness, and they knew that they were under his protection.

Think of St Polycarp, the old Bishop of Smyrna in what is now Turkey, a man who had learnt the Faith at the feet of the Apostle John. In 166 AD he was under incredible pressure to deny Christ. Do you know what he said?

“Eighty-six years have I served him and he has done me no wrong, 
how then can I blaspheme my king who has saved me?” 

Polycarp was killed for refusing to deny Jesus.

Closer to our own time we marvel at the courage of our World War II saints, including Maximilian Kolbe at Auschwitz, and the New Guinea martyrs, commemorated in the stained glass windows above the west doors of this church. Of course they were frightened. But they were bold at the same time. They knew that God was watching over them; they remembered what Jesus said about no-one being able to pluck them out of the Father’s hand no matter how difficult things become. They remembered the promises of God. They remembered Isaiah 43:1-3 (the most amazing beautiful, and powerful promise he could possibly have given to the sheep of his pasture):

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; 
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God . . .”

They remembered what the apostle Paul said in his Letter to that tiny persecuted community of believers in ancient Rome:

“If God is for us, who is against us? 
He who did not spare his own Son 
but gave him up for us all, 
will he not also give us all things with him? 
. . . Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, 
or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 
As it is written, 
‘For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ 
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors 
through him who loved us. 
For I am sure that neither death, nor life, 
nor angels, nor principalities, 
nor things present, nor things to come,
 nor powers, nor height, nor depth, 
nor anything else in all creation, 
will be able to separate us from the love of God 
in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 
(Romans 8:31-39)

Because of that wonderful love of his, he has committed himself to caring for you and for me . . . to protecting us when things go wrong . . . even when it's our own fault. Whoever we are. Wherever we are. He will bring us through. His grace is sufficient. We will one day have a great story to tell about how he worked in circumstances we would never have chosen for ourselves. We can turn to him in every situation. With the writer of the Shepherd Psalm we can say:

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I fear no evil; for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff strengthen me." 
(Psalm 23:4).


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