Scholars Compass – Wisdom Literature

306px-Wisdom_-_Google_Art_Project-191x300 I recently posted three pieces in an online devotional called Scholars Compass, which is part of the Emerging Scholars Network with IVCF.

Post 1 – How I Discovered Wisdom Literature

Post 2 – How I Fell in Love with the Library

Post 3 – How Wisdom Calls Out in the Streets

Miracles in the 21st Century

Miracles.logoI have been preaching and teaching on Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus.  It is clear that the New Testament holds that Jesus did many miracles.

Matthew 9:35ff has a summary of Jesus life – miracles were an integral part. It is hard to separate the teacher from the miracle worker in the Gospel accounts:

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

In fact, without the miracle of Jesus being raised from the dead, there would be no Christian message.

I Corithians 15:9ff

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…”

For 250 years people have quoted a Scottish philosopher David Hume who said that is not reasonable to believe that something contrary to the very regular rules of nature could ever happen.  This was even the substance of a lecture by a philosopher at the University of Wisconsin.  He said it is just as logical to believe in space aliens.

Why should we believe that Jesus was raised?

We have written accounts of eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion – and this was in fact the central message of the first believers:

Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.  (Acts 2:22-24)

We have the additional evidence that the resurrection of Jesus was predicted before it happened, by hundreds of years.  We have the evidence and testimony of the church through the ages of the power of the Gospel. We have the attraction of Jesus himself across time and geography.

One final piece of evidence is “fit”.  How well does your theory of life fit all of the evidence:

  • Is the world impersonal, self-creating and limited to the laws of matter and energy so that when we die out there will be nothing at all?
  • Or, is the world the work of a personal Creator who brought life into existence and brought Jesus to life and can bring new life to all?

 

Miracles, Thomas Jefferson and Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Thomas-Jefferson-9353715-1-402I am teaching a class on Miracles at a local college and in my adult class.

Notes are here – MIRACLES Teacher Outline

As I was preparing this talk, there was a story of a man found after being lost at sea for 13 months in a small fishing boat.  Is this even possible?  How could one survive that long without fresh water and food?  It occurred to me that you can choose to decide before you consider the evidence or after.  So I found some discussions of the possibility of living all that time on a boat.  see

http://www.canada.com/health/Adrift+Human+survival+expert+says+tale+months+could+true/9477491/story.html

I remembered in Spanish class reading a book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez about a man lost at sea for a shorter time and how he survived – “Relato de un Naufrago” or “Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_a_Shipwrecked_Sailor

One has to examine the historical evidence in a case like this – interview witnesses, check his story where it is verifiable, check if eating turtles could sustain a person for that long, ask how he traveled from point A to point B if his story is false.  In short, check the evidence.  Instead of deciding on pre set opinions, consider the evidence.

When it comes to miracles, it has been common since the Enlightenment to discount their reality.  David Hume said that no reasonable man can believe such an exception to the universal experience of the human race.  Anthony Flew said that the talk of miracles in inherently nonsensical.  Thomas Jefferson, a good Enlightenment Deist, actually took his scissors to the New Testament and kept what he felt was the good teaching and eliminated such matters as the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection.  His version can be found here

Click to access jeffbible.pdf

Thomas Jefferson did not and could not go back and see if such things happened. He decided that they could not have happened.  So he, like many, tried to recreate the historical Jesus according to his edited edition of the Gospels.

The New Testament as we have it claims that these events we call miracles happened and that they were attested by a great number of eyewitnesses. So one has to consider the credibility of these witnesses.

Just as you can not recreate the unlikely events of Napoleon’s life, or see if in fact 300 men held off the armies of Persia, so you cannot recreate Jesus’ miracles. But you can evaluate the historical record.

Marriage Equality, Philosophically Speaking – Part 2

scribe.2Part Two:  Counter Arguments  (See previous post for Part 1)

In his lecture, Professor Shaefer-Landau presented a structured argument advocating Marriage Equality.  His Master Argument is reproduced here:

 

 

I. Master Argument.

1. The government is morally required to provide all of its citizens with equal legal rights, unless there is a compelling reason for the government no to do so.

2. There are no compelling reasons for the government to withhold equal marital rights to homosexuals and heterosexuals.

3. Therefore the government is morally required to provide heterosexual and homosexuals with equal marital rights.

I thought it would be helpful to produce some counter arguments.  In his lecture Shaefer-Landau suggested that objections could come in the forms of a missing argument that he did not consider, or problems with his master argument.  I will start with two problems with his master argument and follow with a “Burkean” argument based on the idea of social complexity and unintended consequences.

In arguing in the public sphere, it seems to me to be more helpful to present an argument based on shared values.  Since this is an argument about the law of the nation, not the law of a faith community, I have chosen to answer in these ways.  There are any number of biblical or theological points that can be made within the church community.  I have been part of such dialogues in the past.

A book I found helpful in this is Engaging Unbelief by Curtis Chang (IVP, 2000).  Chang cites St. Augustine and St. Aquinas as two examples of Christian thinkers who entered the conceptual world of their opponents and worked to win in that realm and only then to bring the conversation back to a faith perspective.  For example, the first half of “City of God” engages the late ancient roman world. The second presents a Christian view of history.

I found that the professor’s arguments lacked philosophical foundation in two areas.  His appeals to Morality and Equality have a lot of punch.  These are the winning arguments in our culture as I write this piece.  But the arguments do not have a rigorous foundation that I would expect of a philosophical argument.

Morality Counter Argument

1.  A moral appeal is central to the Master Argument of Professor Shaefer-Landau.

2.  He supplies no moral argument or definition beyond the perceived existence of a consensus on equality.

3. Therefore the Master Argument’s moral appeal fails.

 

Equality Counter Argument

1.  Marriage equality is based on the premise that same-sex marriage and heterosexual marriage are in all significant ways equal.

2.  There are numerous significant ways in which we can distinguish between same-sex and heterosexual marriage.

3.  Differing relationships can be treated differently without being unjust.  Examples are not permitting marriage for those who are under aged or too closely related.

4. Professor Shaefer-Landau provided no reason to hold to the essential equality between same-sex and heterosexual marriage.

5.  Therefor the appeal to equality is invalid.

 

A Burkean Argument

This last argument is loosely based on the conservative tradition of Edmund Burke – the main ideas are that social constructs are complex. Change is often necessary but it is better to change within the existing structures of society than to overthrow them for simplified philosophical arguments.  The French Revolution ended badly with the rise to power of Napoleon.

 

1.  Marriage is a complex institution with a long history of development.

2.  No one can understand the full complexity of such an institution.

3.  Rapid change or change based on a simple rationale such as equality or fairness can have disruptive consequences.

4. Same-sex marriage is a recent development so there is comparatively little information about it.

5.  Therefore same-sex marriage should not receive all the benefits of heterosexual marriage in the singe act of declaring it equal to heterosexual marriage.  It should win its rights over time.

 

On further thought, It seemed to me that several of the presented arguments were insubstantial on other grounds.

Definitional Counter Argument

1.  Professor Shafer-Landau argues that marriage is defined by the people though the process of creating laws, and so they can be changed by the people.

2.  This is social contract theory.

3.  Various religious as well as natural law theories promote a permanent structure for issues such as gender and marriage.

4.  No argument was presented to defend social contract theory as definitive.

5.  Therefore this argument fails.

 

 Historical Counter Argument.

1.  Professor Shafer-Landau stated that the past should not determine what is right in the present.

2. He opposes polygamy because of its historical association with the oppression of women.

3.  No proof of an inherent association between polygamy and oppression was presented.

4.  Thus, the past is being used to determine that polygamy should not be legalized in violation of previous argumentation.

 

The No Sky is Falling Argument

1.  Professor Shafer-Landau in argument stated that same-sex marriage exists in without evidence of harm.  (“The sky has not fallen.”)

2. Marriages and families are institutions that have impacts across several generations.

3.  Laws permitting same-sex marriage have existed for too short of a time to produce long term results that can be studied.

4.  Therefore the argument that there is no threat in change lacks foundation.

 

I expect that few participates in this debate are concerned with rigorous philosophical consistency.  Neither are the opponents. However, this exercise is I think instructive to see how much the current debate is led by slogans such as “marriage equality.”

One value that does come from this exercise is to put the debate into terms of a debate.  Too often social debates are really slogans written by competing worldviews clashing on talk shows.  Perhaps with some philosophy we can have a conversation and not a food fight.

 

Marriage Equality, Philosophically Speaking – Part 1

scribe.2This is the first part of an article on the Philosophy of Marriage Equality. 

On November 7, 2013, I attended a lecture at the University of Wisconsin where Philosophy Professor Russ Shaefer-Landau presented a philosophical justification for marriage equality.  He presented his own position as a Master Argument and then presented and answered what he considered to be the five most common reasons people oppose same sex marriage. The following traces the professor’s lecture and my initial evaluation.  (eventually a video of this presentation will be available at this website: https://sites.google.com/site/philosophertackle/)

I. Master Argument.

  1. The government is morally required to provide all of its citizens with equal legal rights, unless there is a compelling reason for the government no to do so.
  2. There are no compelling reasons for the government to withhold equal marital rights to homosexuals and heterosexuals.
  3. Therefore the government is morally required to provide heterosexual and homosexuals with equal marital rights.

Additional Comments:

  • This is an argument from equality. Morally all are equal before the law.
  • There could be legitimate reasons to treat someone differently: e.g. denying 11 year olds the right to marry.
  • A moral principle is behind all laws on equality.
  • The issue with this argument is with #2, few would dispute #1.

Five Arguments against Same Sex marriage.

 I.  Homosexual conduct is immoral

  1. The government should not allow legal institutions that are designed to normalize and tolerate conduct that is, in fact, immoral.
  2. Same-sex marriage is an institution that is designed to normalize and tolerate intimate homosexual relations.
  3. Intimate homosexual relations are immoral.
  4. Therefore, the government should not allow same-sex marriage.

Additional comments: Four reasons homosexuality is called immoral

  • “What if everyone did that? We would have no population.” This proposes a theoretical disaster scenario.  This is an unreliable test because sometimes a “moral” choice would be banned by it: e.g. celibacy.
  • “Homosexuality is contrary to family values.”  This is rhetorical.  He states that gay couples can embody values such as love, honesty, devotion.  So you have to ask what values are intended.
  • “Homosexuality is unnatural.”  This is ambiguous: if only a few do it, that does not make something unnatural – e.g. left handedness. It means that sex is done contrary to purpose, there are more reasons for sex than procreation – i.e. pleasure.  Another example: eyes are created to see. What if I close my eyes?
  • “Homosexuality is wrong because God forbids it.”  To use this you would have to show the existence of God, of his commands, and that you have the true interpretation of authoritative texts.  There are only a few OT texts in Leviticus that pertain {Note he ignores any NT text such as Rom 1.]  It calls it a “tabu” or “abomination” because it is tied to religious practices of non-biblical people.  Further you would also have to enforce all the other Levitical laws, such as stoning adulterers.    The most literal reading is not the best, you have to consider the underlying moral precept – and the major commands of religion are to love, pursue justice and compassion – which would tend to permit not forbid.

II. The prospect of Same-sex marriage is deeply offensive to Many.

  1. The government should not authorize changes to social institutions if such change would offend a substantial number of citizens.
  2. Allowing same-sex marriage would offend a substantial number of U. S. citizens.
  3. Therefore, the U.S. government should not authorize same-sex marriage.

Additional comment: Causing offense is not sufficient basis for withholding rights. Consider the Civil Rights movement in the 60s.  Also, forbidding same sex marriage is offensive to others.

 III. Marriage is defined as a relation between a man and a woman

  1. If marriage is, by definition, a relation between a man and a woman, then a homosexual relationship can never qualify as a marriage.
  2. Marriage is, by definition, a relation between a man and a woman.
  3. Therefore a homosexual relationship can never qualify as a marriage.

Additional comment:  Parameters of a social institution are set by people. We can define this in any way we like.  Definitions do not determine the question: i.e. Man and Woman of one race was once the view of marriage.  The question of how we ought to define it is not determined by the past.

IV. Consistency requires that proponents of same-sex marriage favor polygamy.

 

  1. If same-sex marriage should be legalized, then we should also legalize polygamous marriages.
  2. We should not legalize polygamous marriages.
  3. Therefor we shouldn’t legalize same-sex marriage.

Additional comment:  Any position that results in an absurd conclusion is absurd.  We can accept 2 but not 1.

The “liberal principle” is that people should do whatever they want as long as they do not harm others.. There is a problem with the lp: cited a story of a person who volunteered to be cannibalized.  The “consistency” argument is based on the liberal principle.  There is a problem with polygamy, even if it is voluntary, because it has been long associated with the oppression of women.   The master argument is based on equality not on the liberal principle.

V.  Same-sex marriage is a threat to married couples and to marriage itself.

 

  1. If a proposed legal innovation poses a threat to innocent citizens and to a long-standing social institution, then it should not be enacted into law.
  2. Same-sex marriage poses a threat to innocent married couples
  3. Same-sex marriage poses a threat to the very institution of marriage.
  4. Therefore, we should not legalize same-sex marriage.

Additional comment: It is not clear what the threat is.  What kind of threat would warrant this?  No one’s rights are threatened.  Marriage is durable: it has survived divorce and other social changes; it will survive because it is flexible.

My Response: In thinking over Professor Russ Shaefer-Landau’s lecture, these were my initial responses.

  • He made the argument to be about Morality so it has more punch.  This is an interesting admission of the role of morality in these decisions.
  • He did not provide a firm basis for morality in his argument. He was basing it on general agreement.  But as he said, it was once the law that marriage could not be across races, by common agreement.
  • Same-sex relationships are not inherently equal to heterosexual relationships – he did not say why something different is something equal.
  • His attempt to defend same-sex while resisting polygamy seems weak:  just because it was associated with oppression does not determine as he argued that the past cannot determine what is correct; further if a form of Polygamous marriage was not oppressive, his argument fails.
  • The difference between the equality argument and the liberal principle seems a subtly that will be lost in the debate.
  • He did not reject a religious argument, but suggested an alternative interpretation of texts (ignoring others) and suggesting that the religious argument for love, compassion and justice is more compelling.  His biblical argument lacked any NT reference and any reference to Genesis 2:24 – he did not even negate all the negative passages.

Why so Sad? Lamentation in Scripture

sacklothThis is a worksheet i am presenting to the Adult class on Sunday, November 17, 2013.

Click this: The Lament for the document or read the cut and paste version below.

The response of Mordecai to the decree against his people is found in Esther 4:1

 

“When Mordecai heard the news,

he tore his clothes into shreds,

wrapped himself in coarse burlap,

covered himself with ashes

and walked into the middle of the city,

wailing loudly and bitterly.”

             The response of Nehemiah to the news of the sad state of the remnant in Jerusalem is found in Nehemiah 1:4

 

“When I heard these things,

I sat down and wept.

For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed

before the God of heaven.”

 

These represent two categories of “Lament” found in the bible, especially the Psalms.  Biblical scholars are able to identify a particular order that these Psalms take.

There are a number of passages that contain the laments of communities: Psalm 44, 74, 79, 80, 83, 89; Lamentations 1,2,4,5; Jeremiah 14; Isaiah 63:7-64; Habakkuk 1.  When the whole community faced a crisis a time of fasting was called and prayers in the form of laments were heard.

There are also laments of individuals. There are about 50 in the Psalms (3-7, 10-14, 16-17, 22-23, 25-28, 31, 35-43, 51-59, 61-64, 69, 71, 73, 86,102, 109, 130; Lamentations 3, Jeremiah 11, 15, 17, 18, 20; parts of Job.

Jesus said,

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Mt 5:4  

            Question: Why do you think there is so much lamentation in the Bible?

Study:

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David. 

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

This is a typical outline of an individual Psalm of Lament:  where do you find them is Psalm 13?  (Trick, psalms are not mechanical, they do not always contain all the parts.)

1. An Address to God and initial Petition

2. The Lament: often contains a statement about the prayer (“I”) about God (“you”) and an enemy (“they”).

3. A Confession of trust

4. A Petition, for God’s favor, his intervention and/or  a reason for God to act.

5. A Promise to God

6.  Thanksgiving in anticipation.

Key (don’t look here if you want to find your own answers first)

 

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

 

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.

1. An Address to God and initial Petition

  • v. 1a “Lord”

2. The Lament: often contains a statement about the prayer (“I”) about God (“you”) and an enemy (“they”).

How Long (4x)

  • I – v. 2a
  • You – v. 1 a,b
  • Enemy – v. 2b

3. A Confession of trust

  • V. 5a

4. A Petition, for God’s favor, his intervention and/or  a reason for God to act.

  • Favor v. 3a
  • Intervention  v. 3b
  • Reason   v. 4a

5. A Promise to God

  • V. 6a

6.  Thanksgiving in anticipation.

  • V. 6b

Sexuality in the Bible

I have been part of discussion over same gender relationships and marriage equality for a number of years.  Below are two articles.

Sexuality in the Light of Christ is a publication that we make available at the church.

Asking the Right Questions was a longer piece I wrote as part of an inter-church dialogue on the issue.

I have observed over the years, since I was at University that the arguments have migrated regularly.  Some of what I wrote is thus dated, but the Biblical portions remain my view of the texts in question.

Finally, Biblical passages that pertain to Sexuality.

Wisdom Literature – bibliography

scribe.2I am posting this in response to a Face Book conversation about Proverbs.  I find Wisdom Literature to be scripture in another key signature, it tends to be observational, not doctrinal in the strict sense, inviting to outsiders  sometimes borrows from outsiders.  We can fall into making it kid stuff, or simplistic rules and regulations   It is best to realize that a proverb, “mashal” in Hebrew, means to lay one thing next to another and see what can be learned.  It is writing to help us notice, think and consider all things but most importantly the “fear of the Lord” before we act.

There are a number of posts on FRESH READ tagged with Wisdom.

Bibliographic Notes on Wisdom Literature

7 Words – #5 Shepherds – John 10:11

sheepJesus healed a blind man in John 9.  The Pharisees put on an inquiry to find out if some law had been broken.  These wise leaders were too simple to understand what the simple blind man could see instantly.

“You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners…..If this man were not from god, he could do nothing.”    9:30,33

They blindly threw out the blind man who could see.

In the next chapter Jesus spoke of himself as a Shepherd.  First that those who come in over the wall are not the true shepherds.  Here he was referring to those blind leaders who did not enter by God’s word, but by their own word.

Then he said, that he himself was the Gate to the sheep.  He was the only way in for the sheep and the shepherds.

Then he said that he was himself the Good Shepherd.  The Pharisees of Chapter 9 were bad shepherds.

Here then is the fifth word to Pastors.

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns 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.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”  v. 11-13

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The very name Pastor means Shepherd.  We Pastors  have to ask ourselves, “Are we really shepherds or just hired hands?”

The hired hand has two defining qualities according to Jesus’ words.  He runs away from danger and he cares nothing for the sheep.

Jesus picked up an important theme from the Old Testament.

 The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he restores my soul,

He guides me in the paths of righteousness

for his names sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:1-4

 “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!  Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.  You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.  You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.  You have ruled them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.”

Ezekiel 34:2-6

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 Here is a rich vein of instruction for all who Pastor the flock of God.  Who of us could possibly stand the scrutiny of the words of Ezekiel?  How searching they are!  Have I ever thought of myself first?  Have I ever spoke of the sheep as belonging to me?  Have I ever wept over the broken down Church of God where sheep are scattered because the leaders thought first of their own needs?  Do I leave the 99 who are happy with me to go listen to the disgruntled 1 who is so angry with me that he left?

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Her eyes sparkled and her wrinkled face was radiant as she said, “He was like God to us.” The elderly saint was referring to a very loved Pastor.  He had been there when the children were baptized and later confirmed and still later married.  He was the first face seen when waking up from the surgical anesthesia.  His home was open for Sunday dinner, especially for the single students far from home.  He taught the word.  And so this sheep was yet in awe of his memory.

Yet the phrase “He was like God” is disturbing.  If it meant that he was often the one who’s voice spoke out loud  the Word of God and who’s presence showed in the flesh the love of God who has no body, then it is ok.  However I wonder if he did not become a bit confused with his Over-shepherd.

The Good Shepherd owns the sheep.  Pastors don’t own anyone.  Does that make us hired hands?  No.  We don’t run away, and we do care a great deal for the sheep.

We are under-shepherds.  We serve the Good Shepherd.  He owns the sheep.  He gave his life’s blood to buy them and us as well.  We serve in his flock as under-shepherds because he has asked us.  They are never really ours because they are his.

I have seen it increasingly in the eyes of the sheep.  It is not the glow of the older saint, but is the question mark in the eyes of the younger sheep.

“What does he want?”

“Wouldn’t he really like it better if I just left?”

“Is he doing something with the other shepherds that I should know about?”

“If he really knew me, he wouldn’t love me.”

“Why does he keep looking at his watch?”

The older saint had seen faults in her under-shepherd, and could even tell a good story at his expense.  But those flaws only made the bond stronger.

The younger saints see faults and wonder if they don’t reveal a much bigger fault.  They could forgive a mis-stated historical fact in the sermon, and even the way we mix up names and family connections.  But they sense that what they see is not so innocent as that.  What they see is a heart that is empty of love and full of something else.  It could be ambition or vision or a love for process.  It could be annoyance at being disturbed from his study to deal with a human need.

We think because they need direction that sheep are stupid.  They may choose stupid paths and they may choose the wrong grass to eat.  But they do not make mistakes in judging the heart of their shepherds.  Their lives depend on the shepherd, and they know it. 

If we make mistakes along the way, they are forgotten.  We become the butt of loving humor.  If we forget that we should love, feed and defend the sheep one of two things will happen:  They leave or they turn on us.

Their bodies may remain in the pew long after their hearts and minds have gone elsewhere.  It sometimes takes a long time for the body to actually follow the heart in leaving.

Or they may turn into wolves.  It is a kind of anti-miracle that these fuzzy gentle creatures can sprout claws and fangs and turn on us.  When the sheep become wolves, it is because of the shepherds.

Later in this chapter Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”  v. 15.  Later in the Gospel he said, “Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…”  15:13,14.  And still later he said to his apostles, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 21:21

“As” means many things.  One of those is that Jesus came as a shepherd who gave his life for his sheep. We also show our love by laying down our lives for the sheep.

Shepherding is a trade and it is a way of life.  We learn our trade by schooling and by experience.  We can not lay it aside after hours.  There are no “after hours” for shepherds.

A profession is hard to enter because the guardians of professions want to maintain the prestige and the market value of those called.  Shepherds are different.  The sheep are not a route for advancement.  They are not numbers leading to a resume.  They are people with names and families.  The more we know them and their places of living and working, the better we can be their pastors.

Many professions have a union or guild.  What would be the point of a shepherds union?  Wouldn’t the sheep die while the owner and the shepherds argued?

Shepherding is a calling.  It is a calling to avoided at all costs, unless you are called by the Good Shepherd.

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Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;

Keep watch over the door of my lips.

Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil

to take part in wicked deeds

with men who are evil doers.

Let me not eat of their delicacies.

Psalm 141:3,4

 

An oracle is within my heart,

concerning the sinfulness of the wicked,

There is no fear of God before their eyes,

For in his own eyes he flatters himself

Too much to detect of hate his sin.

Psalm 36:1,2

David E. Carlson c 2000