The joke goes of 90 year-old woman who’s just gotten married for the fourth time. She attracts the attention of the media, and they conduct an interview with her. The reporter asks her, “Who were the four men that you married?” She says, “Well, in my twenties I married a banker. In my forties I married a ring master at the circus. In my sixties I married a preacher. And now in my nineties I’ve married a funeral director.” The reporter answers, “Wow, that’s amazing. How did you come to choose men of such different careers?” She says, “That’s easy. I married one for the money. Two for the show. Three to get ready. And four to go.”
Whether in our smallest or largest commitments, suffice it to say that our reasons for making them are not necessarily the most noble. Granted, all of us have generally good intentions about life, about other people, about living the beliefs and the values that we profess. And yet all too often, in the decisions we make—be they major or minor—we find those same beliefs and values being compromised. There is something like a virus that can get into us and turn things upside down—something that Jesus in John’s gospel would refer to as “wolves.”
Which is why we are given a shepherd. At this point in the Easter season, Jesus speaks about God’s desire to be with us and to guide us—just like a good shepherd does with his flock. Now this shepherd is no hired hand. He’s there no matter what. And he’s always looking to help us find the right path. And we need that help. Because it’s all too easy to find ourselves on the wrong path. A wolf has entered our lives, and sometimes we don’t even realize it.
In his novel, A Man in Full, author Thomas Wolfe describes the life of a big time real estate developer named Charlie Croker. Charlie might be described as the Donald Trump of Atlanta. He makes millions and millions in the boom years of the 1980’s, and he thinks he’s indestructible. But then things change. He’s borrowed way too much money from the banks. His development projects don’t increase in value. And now he finds himself in so much trouble that he’s willing to sell anything—even his soul—in order to save his company and his personal possessions. He caves into big city politicians and lawyers who want him to say things he doesn’t believe in. He’s willing to be a pawn to these people, if only to hang on to a piece of his empire. But then he meets up with an unlikely character who gets him to consider his most valuable possession—his character and integrity. Charlie goes through a kind of conversion of mind and heart. And by the end of the story, in a big media press conference, he announces to a crowd of news reporters,
“As you begin to get older, your body starts to rust and so do your ideas (and then later)…one of the few freedoms we have as human beings is the freedom to assent what is true and to deny what is false. Nothing you can give me is worth surrendering that freedom for. At this moment I’m a man with complete tranquility.”
In a way, the book describes the work of the Good Shepherd. To help us see what is most important in life so that we can be our true self. It’s the same self that has been redeemed and re-created in baptism. It is the self that offers with Christ. It is our Easter selves. And let’s not fool ourselves. In living as God’s adopted sons and daughters, we won’t likely find a life of comfort and ease. We won’t likely meet with popular acclaim. But we will find our true selves, and we will find favor with God and peace within ourselves.
The Body and Blood we share is our greatest sign that God is with us and wants to shepherd us, both within and without. The shepherd both leads us from the front and urges us from behind. God’s guidance is faithful and trustworthy, even if in unpredictable and unforeseen ways.
© Rev. Thomas Mannebach