Catholicity and Culture

The Good Shepherd in Baltimore

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away– and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. … And I lay down my life for the sheep. … For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  (John 10:11-18. Excerpted.)

The Story of the Good Shepherd is a story about value. Its power is in its contrasts. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The hired hand runs.

We should get that. Our culture assigns value to us every day of our lives. We call it a market. My labor is worth this much. My time is worth this much. Only rarely do we get to say how much that worth is.

It makes sense that we, who spend so much of our lives doing unconscious cost-benefit analysis, identify with the hired hands. There’s a point at which the stakes become too high. The wolves circle around, and we shout that “I don’t get paid enough for this shit!” and walk.

We all would even agree that a sensible shepherd would cut his losses and run. Wolves don’t come alone. A hungry pack is more than enough to overpower one shepherd. It’s a fight that usually can’t be won. The wolves will probably only take a couple of sheep, and the vulnerable ones at that. Some losses can be incurred.

But that’s not the Good Shepherd. For the Good Shepherd to lay down his life for his sheep, he must know that the sheep are worth it. For the True God from True God to lay down his life for us, his sheep, that means that we all have beyond-infinite value.

God values us enough to give up Godself to the powers of sin and death, and in doing so overcomes sin and death.

So when God in Christ tells us to love one another as he loved us, he is telling us to make that same call.

God is commanding us to stop acting like hired hands. God is commanding us to stop letting markets dictate our decisions about one another. God is commanding us to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters so that we can take it up again.

Any value judgement that we make about any other person based on any premise other than this is a lie. And yet we lie all the time.

We’ve lied so much that our cities are full of people who feel like the only way they can claim their value is in violence. If their value is determined by what they have, or what they do, when they have for so long had nothing, and been told that they can do nothing, the why are we surprised that one day those lies lash out? Why are we surprised that those lies come back to the things that we value, the things that we have, the things that we do?

The language of the riot is a language that is learned. It’s a language that we’ve taught.

Until we step into the midst of the wolves and call out the lie, the lie that we have handed down to these communities since we brought them here on boats and told them they were animals, then we continue to speak a language that will twist itself into the next riot.

More young black men will die.

More young black men will riot.

Then we’ll turn back to those young black men and say “See. This is why we kill you.”

That’s the exchange that always has been. That’s the exchange we’re wrestling with now. White property. Black lives. A Church that cannot live into the example of the Good Shepherd and stop that exchange of misplaced value, is a Church that cannot live into the commandments that Christ has given us. And if we can’t go to the world and say that every human being is of infinite value without any caveats, then I really wonder if we are living into our baptisms at all.

When the Risen Lord met Peter and the Disciples on the beach and told Peter to care for his sheep, I’m inclined to believe he meant it. If we’re going to claim to carry on the lineage of St. Peter, then I’m inclined to believe that he meant that for us too.

They’re lighting fires in Baltimore to tell us how much hurt is there.

So let’s care for his sheep. 

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