Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Professionalism and shepherds

We study for years in expensive, prestigious educational institutions acquiring skills and knowledge focused on obtaining and enhancing our future careers. And once employment is secured, we typically seek higher standing in the corporate structure through a combination of improving old skills, gaining new ones and some well-calculated social shmoozing.

Well, what about shepherds? I’m no expert, but it doesn’t seem like it would take much skill to be a shepherd. I mean, after all, what do you have to do but sit around all day and watch the sheep? Oh, I suppose you have to protect them from harm, and lead them to food and water as well. But even so, shepherding certainly doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of upward professional mobility. All things considered, being a shepherd wouldn’t be too impressive on a job résumé.

The irony of ironies is that this is the picture the Lord God Most High, the Creator of heaven and earth, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, gives us of himself. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says (Jn 10.11). How odd. Why would he identify himself with an occupation that by most standards is nothing short of a professional black hole? Probably because it’s a clear reflection of his character: unlike the corporate climber, the young urban professional, the CEO of a multi-national conglomerate or the celebrity on a red carpet surrounded by papparazzi, the shepherd is focused not on himself, but on the well-being of weak, defenseless, fairly stupid creatures who get lost easily and do nothing all day but consume to fill their own stomachs. Creatures rather like us, as a matter of fact. Selfish, belly-centric, and prone to take the wrong path. Creatures who need protection and nourishment. Creatures who more often than not do not recognize the extent to which they benefit from the character of their caretaker. Creatures who find themselves in the center of the selfless, constant, loving and compassionate gaze of the Good Shepherd.


Things that are bigger than you will force you to either try harder in an effort to exert control and influence over them – or they will force you to yield. If you do the latter, it matters what you yield to. You can yield to despair – I've done so on occasion. The world will be cold and opaque. You can also yield to God. There is no despair for a beleaguered soul-jer finding protection behind the walls of a fortress. That's what fortresses are for…not some shameful, second-rate "plan B" for the warrior who discovers he is insufficient in and of himself to win the war alone. Come in. Close the door. Welcome to my world.

Holey His

I was thinking this week about failure – personal, professional, just pick a domain – and, in typically morose fashion, began to wallow in a view of myself as nothing but a collection of empty holes, a substance-less interstitial tissue. Hardly healthy.

Then I remembered thinking once long ago "I am NOT the sum of all my failures." Initially a comforting thought. But if holes is what I am NOT, what indeed AM I? Is this comfort in actuality some kind of psychological stowaway, hidden somewhere inside the vague hope that maybe there IS some redeeming element, something worthwhile, some measure of intrinsic value in me, even apart from God?

Thoughts of Grace's teaching on Romans flow thru my mind; if one thing is clear it's that there is no excuse, no cause for boasting, no justification whatsover before God – apart from Him and His intervention I am irrevocably unredeemable.

So the niggling suspicion that I am a collection of empty holes turns out to be, in fact, closer to the truth – except for one thing; it does not end there: the holes are voids, hollow places to be filled by the grace of God. Then let the holes be deep and cavernous and gaping – and let God pour into them, to outrageous overflowing, all the grace that He can muster. Then it will be true that I am not the sum of all my failures – for I am failure met by the unmerited favor of God, and He has made me a vessel of His relentless, unfathomable and incalculable grace that can fill all the holes in me. To Him be all glory and honor.