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The closest feast day we have to today isn’t until Sunday, so I opted to treat today as a feria, which is a weekday where no feast is celebrated, that is why we heard the same readings today as we heard on Sunday. As we said on Sunday, this Gospel uses the imagery of sheep and shepherd, but it is anything but tame.
What is so fascinating about this imagery is that, most often, when it is depicted in art, we see a heavenly pastoral scene with Jesus carrying a little lamb, whose fleece is white as snow. However, today’s lesson is no such a scene. Today’s lesson is that of a shepherd entering a den of wolves.
In my preaching, I often stay focused on the New Testament teachings: God is Love, peace, joy, etc. When we think of the Old Testament, we can almost begin to believe that it is an entirely different god, but they are one in the same (to believe differently is actually the heresy of Marcionism). Even so, it is our impressions of the God of the Old Testament that steps out of the shadows in this reading. This is He of the ten plagues of Egypt, the God of Mt. Sinai, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph and he has just made his intentions known to the enemies of his people and that he is there to fight for them. It is this same type of boldness that we are to possess.
You and I come into these beautiful churches built to the glory of God. They have their brass candle sticks and silver chalices, we wear our best clothes and put on our best behavior to honor our God, and it is only fitting that we do these things, but the truth is, being a Christian can be a messy, hard fought business. There are sometimes clear enemies of God’s people and His Church, but there are also those wolves in sheep’s clothing: criminals, abusers, drugs, those who cause children to be endangered, disease, poverty. All sorts of evil in this world that we cannot see or escape.
This should be no surprise to any of us, because Jesus himself said to those first apostles, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” And it is in the encounter of these wolves where we must be bold, standing in our faith as Jesus did before the wolves in the Temple. We do this by remembering that the God of the Resurrection is no weak God. He is the God that endured and overcame the sins of the world, he is the God that walked through the valley of the shadow of death and lived, and he is the God that walked in the portico of the Temple of Jerusalem and told the wolves to their faces, I am King.
St. John wrote in his Revelation, “They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings” and with him will be his called, chosen, and faithful followers.
Those who are called, chosen, and faithful are you and I. We are those that have heard his voice, we know him, we follow him, and we have been given eternal life through him. Nothing shall ever snatch us from him, therefore, as you stand before the wolves in your lives, as Joshua said to the Israelites, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”