In the Lectionary

November 24, Reign of Christ C (Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 23:33-43)

The unfaithful shepherd sniffs out and stirs up fear, fragmenting communities.

A field of green felt, a few blobs of black felt and one of blue, and a handful of flat pressboard figures: some sheep, a shepherd, and a wolf. Years ago, I sat on the floor of a church basement, watching as a fellow participant in our Godly Play training told Jesus’ parable of the good shepherd using these simple materials. She slowly moved the sheep out of their felt sheepfold, following the shepherd through the field of green and past the pool of blue. As she moved the shepherd and sheep between the dark “places of danger” in the scene, the storyteller tucked the last sheep under one of the black felt shapes, while the rest of the flock continued on. The pressboard shepherd, of course, went looking for the missing sheep and found him tucked under his cover of darkness. Later, the storyteller moved the shepherd to lie between the flock and the wolf.

Somehow those flat felt shapes and pressboard figures conveyed what Paul Tillich calls “the deep things of ourselves, of our world, and of God.” As we watched the storyteller move the oval of black felt over the sheep, those of us sitting in the circle on that cold basement floor recalled our own moments of deep loneliness and fear. And we felt the lift of hope as she moved the shepherd out of the sheepfold to find and rescue the lost sheep, to guide it home again.

In Jeremiah 23, we hear of shepherds who do not guide, protect, rescue, or restore. We hear of God’s anger toward unfaithful shepherds of God’s people and of God’s promise to raise up faithful ones. We are told how to discern between the two: look at the sheep given into their care. Under the care of a faithful leader, the people are not afraid (yare) or dismayed (chathath), nor are any of them missing (paquad).