Rod and Staff


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 23; 149, Exodus 13:17-14:4, 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10, Mark 12:18-27

Psalm 23 is arguably the most recognized psalm in the psalter. It chronicles the typical day in the life of a shepherd and flock, through danger and safely home again. The metaphor of Christians as sheep may seem less than flattering; author Russell Banks once observed sheep were only slightly more intelligent than lawn furniture. Critics of the faith have said it accurately describes mindless followers, but the metaphor is not so much about following as about the relationship binding a shepherd and his flock.

At the end of the day, a shepherd uses a rod to count and inspect each sheep for injuries, a practice known as passing “under the rod.” The rod can also be thrown in front of a sheep to startle it back on course. Although other images of rods, such as “spare the rod and spoil the child” and Proverbs 13:24 (“He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”) are more about discipline, the audience of this psalm knew the rod was not used to strike, but to tend.

Impulsive pursuits may leave us stranded in a spiritual bramble. We get caught up following other sheep and find ourselves in unfamiliar or even hostile territory. We tangle ourselves in gossip at work or church. We feel pressure to overspend in order to keep up appearances with friends and neighbors. As a result, we feel lost, overwhelmed, or out of control. At these times, depending on our relationship to our shepherd can literally save us.

To Jesus’ contemporaries the rod and staff were symbols of loving authority. When he called himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus was telling his listeners, “I have your best interests at heart, and often that will require a course correction.” Are we challenged when trying to integrate the ideas of “love” and “authority” into a unified whole? Have we learned to picture the rod in Jesus’ hand as an instrument of punishment or nurture?

We may not be immediately comfortable accepting the humility necessary to admit we need shepherding, but eventually we realize it is a true blessing that our God does not send us alone into the wilderness. Following Christ will always lead us home.

Comfort: Christ seeks to rescue every sheep, no matter how lost.

Challenge: If possible, visit a meditation labyrinth (or use a finger labyrinth). As you move to the center, meditate on a problem that has you feeling lost. On the way out, ask God to lead you home, and give thanks for Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Prayer: Merciful and loving God, always lead me home to you.

Discussion: How do you feel about being disciplined? How do you react to it?

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Our Shepherd’s Voice


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 63; 149, Job 22:1-4, 22:21-23:7, Acts 13:26-43, John 10:1-18

In his book Imaginary Jesus, author Matt Mikalatos provides many humorous examples of our tendency to re-create Jesus in our own image. From Liberal Social Services Jesus, to Truth Telling Conservative Jesus, we populate our spiritual lives with images of Jesus that reinforce our own inclinations. The apostles walked, spoke, and broke bread with Jesus every day, yet even they could misunderstand him; let’s not be too hasty to be sure we’ve got it right.

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me.” Sheep are safest when they stay within shouting distance, where the familiar voice of their shepherd can call them away from danger. Sheep are not especially bright however, and can be lured away by thieves and distractions. In our modern world, we must discern among the many competing voices claiming to speak for our shepherd. Jesus-peddlers who promise prosperity, bigots who preach hate of the “other,” legalists who reduce faith to a simple formula of do’s and don’ts – these types and more falsely appeal to our baser nature in the name of Jesus. Are we listening for our true shepherd, or are we listening for voices that tell us what we want to hear? A voice that never tells us we’re going the wrong way, that never causes us discomfort or inconvenience, that disapproves of all the people we do, is not the voice of a loving shepherd.

Through prayer and study we become familiar with our shepherd’s voice. We learn to trust him when he calls us away from pastures that seem lush but are prowled by wolves, and when he calls us down paths that seem treacherous but lead to abundance. Abraham followed the voice of his shepherd God even when it asked him to do the incomprehensible. Jacob recognized the voice of his shepherd even though it spoke to him in a dream. If they hadn’t been attuned to listening for their true shepherd, they could have missed these important messages. The voice of Jesus speaks words of both safety and challenge, of love and correction.

Comfort: Our shepherd is always calling us home.

Challenge: Many voices – sometimes even our own – falsely or mistakenly claim to speak for Jesus. Listen carefully.

Prayer: Creator and Shepherd, thank you for the safety of your fold. I will listen for your voice and yours alone. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever realized the voice you were following was the wrong one? How did the true voice call you back home?

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