沒有群羊的世界…──WHAT ARE SHEPHERDS FOR IN A WORLD WITHOUT SHEEP (Prof. McCann)- 2009.8.30
證道：Prof. Dennis P. McCann
“What are Shepherds for in a World without Sheep?”
Images of Sheep and Shepherds form an important part of the Christian imagination. One of the earliest of these is Jesus Christ represented as a Paschal Lamb. The meaning of his suffering and death on the cross is symbolized by the innocent lamb sacrificed as part of the Jewish ritual of Passover. Jesus himself speaks of sheep when, after his resurrection, he commission Peter with the task of looking after the Christian community: “Do you love me Simon Peter more than these? Then feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” (John 21: 15-19) Earlier on in John”s Gospel, Jesus is remembered as proclaiming himself the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. (John 10: 1-18) And as we see in this Sunday”s readings, the images of shepherds and sheep run deep in the history of Ancient Israel, focused through Psalm 23 attributed to King David: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want….” We also have heard the prophetic speech of Jeremiah who denounces the rulers of Israel as shepherds who “have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them.” (Jeremiah 23) If much of this sounds familiar to those who come here often, you may recall that Good Shepherd Sunday was just ten weeks ago. So why are we at it again about shepherds and sheep? What more can be said about them?
Perhaps we need to think more concretely about sheep and shepherds in order to hear better what Word of God may be saying to us through them. Populations of sheep are not evenly distributed around the world. Have you ever seen sheep in Hong Kong? Goats, perhaps, but not sheep, though China today is home to the single largest population of sheep, nearly 158 million in 2004, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It would be interesting to know whether most of these sheep reside in the Western provinces. In New Zealand, however, contact with sheep must be a very frequent occurrence, since there are nearly 4 times as many sheep as there are people. Similarly, in Australia, with the world”s second largest population of sheep after China. So don”t be embarrassed if you are not on intimate terms with sheep or shepherds. Both are very rare here in Hong Kong.
This is one of the ways in which our lives and our experience differ greatly from the world of the Bible. Because we live in a world without sheep, we may not have much feeling for shepherds. Besides, though the Chinese character for beauty makes reference to sheep, in the English language, “sheep” and “sheepish” carry some ambivalent meanings. On the one hand, following the Bible (Matthew 25: 31-33), the English language imagines Judgment Day as a time when the Lord will separate the sheep from the goats. In English usage, sheep are regarded as good because they are docile and easily led, while goats are regarded as evil because they are unruly and randy. A goat”s head at times has been used to symbolize the Devil. On the other hand, there is the English term, “sheepish,” which is anything but flattering. Sheepish means resembling sheep in meekness, stupidity, and timidity. To act sheepishly is to show embarrassment, or an uncommon shyness, to the point of calling unwelcome attention to oneself. Sheepish behavior is either silly and inconsequential, or it is mindlessly conformist. With such associations in English, who wants to be thought of as sheepish?
Yet shepherds and sheep go together. Real sheep really need looking after. They need to be herded, for it is their only way of protecting themselves from predators, like wolves. Wolves are very smart – they know they can succeed by dispersing the sheep. Once isolated, the sheep are more easily made a meal of. Thus sheep may easily be led, but they are lost without a shepherd to keep them together. Otherwise they may panic and scatter. Sheep may be dumb in some ways, but they manage to attract the love and loyalty of real shepherds. The idea that a shepherd might risk his life to rescue a sheep from an attack by the wolves is not that far-fetched. The hireling, who may watch over the flock merely for a day”s wage, is not expected to be so devoted. After all, he doesn”t know the sheep the way a real shepherd does.
Those who study such things tell us that sheep were among the very first animals to be domesticated by people. It all started in the Middle East, or if you will West Asia, at least 10,000 years ago. Sheep and shepherds readily developed mutually beneficial relationships. Even if some of the sheep, particularly young lambs, were occasionally harvested for food, the herd would flourish, if the shepherd were devoted to them and weren”t too greedy or irresponsible. When well cared for, sheep are very prolific, and so the flocks would increase, and with them the wealth of the shepherds who tended them. Gathering wool from sheep and weaving it into a variety of useful products for human use is among the oldest industries. It gave the herdsmen a reason to go into the villages, towns and cities established by the agriculturalists. The different needs and lifestyles of farmers and shepherds often led to conflict – the Egyptians, for example, did not want sheep grazing in their fields, and so they confined both sheep and shepherds to the Land of Goshen, that is, the area east of the Nile River, and on toward Sinai and beyond, that was unsuitable for farming. Despite these differences, or perhaps because of them, trade became both possible and desirable, and eventually a civilization would emerge.
When we view the Bible”s many stories about sheep and shepherds in light of these observations, we may be able to appreciate the emotional intensity of Jeremiah”s portrayal of God”s anger over the faithlessness of the Kings of Israel and Judah. Because they have failed in their duties to both God and the people, their kingdoms will be given over to their enemies in punishment for the evil they have done. But beyond the destruction, Jeremiah prophecies that at remnant eventually will return and a new shepherd-king, a new David, will be placed over them. We learn, then, that images of sheep and shepherds, in Biblical perspective, are unfailingly political. They provide a Biblical way of expressing one”s outrage over corruption and injustice on the part of those who have pledged themselves to serve the people. They provide a Biblical way of expressing one”s hope for change, for new leaders who will live up to their pledges, who will embody in our lives God”s promise of Righteousness.
The political meaning of the Bible is not something invented by secular ideologues bent on distracting us from our worship of God. Matthew”s Gospel, in recalling the feeding of the 5000 presents us with yet another echo of the Good Shepherd. We can well imagine the people, in their rough garments and blankets, from a distance looking like sheep grazing on the hillside. But they have no food, until the Shepherd feeds them. With a crowd so large, this is hardly a private affair. It is deliberately proposed as an image of a new politics, emergent in the coming of the Kingdom of God. In feeding the people who came out to hear him, Jesus assumes the role of the Shepherd-King prophesied by Jeremiah.
Ephesians provides us with a glimpse of both the process and the promised outcome of this new politics. The Kingdom of God, as it is inaugurated will overcome the historic enmity and division of Jews and Gentiles. “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility…. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” (Ephesians 2: 14-20) In God”s Kingdom, there will be but one flock and one Shepherd: that”s the hope, the goal, of the new politics.
Perhaps it is a mistake to assume that we are not sheep, and no longer in need of a good shepherd. Though the images (of sheep and shepherd) may be distant from our own experience, once they are decoded we may understand their power and wisdom. We may not be sheep, but we are a people, and we do need proper leadership. Otherwise we become scattered, distracted, confused, fearful of people who are different from ourselves, and easily prone to panic and violence.
I am a foreign guest here, merely a sojourner, but one who has loved Hong Kong and China for many years. It is not my place to judge whether, for example, Cardinal Zen was right a year ago on the 11th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China to invoke the Bible”s warnings – Ezekiel 34 – against faithless shepherds to challenge the government”s lengthening delays in establishing full democracy here. (cf. http://www.asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=12674) That is up to you to judge, and your own struggles in good conscience. Still, can it escape our attention that today nobody suffers more from the enmity described in Ephesians than the people of Xinjiang Province, both Han and Uighurs? What might we do about Xinjiang, if we were to take seriously the vision of unity that Jesus” disciples placed their hopes in? Would we be content merely to pray for the victims of violence, without doing something to help ensure that it never happens again? What would a true Shepherd-King do, if his flock included both Han and Uighurs? Do you really think his work would be finished with separating the sheep from the goats? But if that”s too far away to consider, why not focus on Hong Kong? Why is it that the case of one Filipino maid being taken to the hospital with swine-flu has prompted certain elements in the community to once again roll out all their grievances – real or imagined – against the foreign domestic helpers? Do you really believe that the reactions we”ve witnessed this past week express merely a concern for proper hygiene?
Perhaps in our fears, we are more like sheep than we had imagined. It is hard to be sheep without becoming sheepish, and even more challenging to become a good Shepherd genuinely caring for the sheep, while knowing them as intimately as he should. But this is what we and our leaders are called to be and to do. God grant us the courage and wisdom to hear his Word for us, and with his grace to respond to it wherever it may lead us. Amen.
Chung Chi College Chapel, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Sunday Service Time
10:30 a.m., Sunday
Chung Chi College Chapel, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
The Sunday Service is conducted simultaneously in Cantonese, Putonghua and English with the help of interpretation.
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