The Truly Good Shepherd

Is it possible to be kind and compassionate, but still intend to hurt someone? Proverbs 27:6 says “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy”. I can’t imagine Solomon has in mind here unintentional hurting. The idea is that you will be called upon from time to time to speak truth even though you know it will hit the person in a soft spot. Jesus was a compassionate truth teller. He looked at the crowd and called them sheep without a shepherd. This is not meant to conjure up sentimental images of lost lambs that need rescuing. It’s not even a statement about the value of the crowd, conveying the idea “oh, look at those poor sheep”. It is simply an observation. It’s a statement of fact. To help them he has appointed shepherds, human shepherds, who are sheep too. The only difference is that they have been called by God to help lead their own kind. The religious leaders who should have been watching over these sheep had done nothing but abuse, exploit, and now abandon them (see Ezekiel 34:1-24). These people were in need of a shepherd. They were in need of the truly good Shepherd. So are we. With human shepherds this will always be imperfectly done until the Great Shepherd guides us all in the Kingdom. In the meantime we tell the truth even if it hurts. We shepherd one another by upholding the authority of Scripture and accountability to its standards. This will not always make us popular, but it will make us healthy. May the Lord hasten the day when we can all be lead by someone perfect.

Too Tired to Care

Fatigue can be an enemy of compassion. A person otherwise inclined to serve feels like they are the one in need. Circumstances sap energy and it’s just impossible to muster the effort necessary to meet a need, make a call, pay a visit, or solve a problem. There is the fatigue that comes from too much physical exertion, the kind that comes from prolonged exertion, the kind that is primarily mental, and the fatigue that is mostly emotional. In the case of Jesus and his apostles, all four kinds were present in a big way. In the later section of Mark 6 we see that everyone was dealing with the news that John the Baptist had been murdered by a petty ruler at the behest of his crazy wife, who was really his brothers wife, and actually a niece to both of them. The weekend highs of ministry are now reversed by the lows of Monday morning depression mixed with deep sorrow. Months of grueling ministry demands were taking their toll, and Jesus shows his men a great kindness by trying to get away to a less populated region east of Capernaum (Mark 6:31). There is a time for everything under the sun, even getting away from it all. The amazing thing to me is that the retreat lasted no more than a few hours, and was interrupted by the sick and spectators. Despite deep exhaustion, Jesus has the men steer the boat directly into the heart of the crowd. The motive was singular: compassion. Maybe fatigue makes us better caregivers. Maybe exhaustion sucks out the gases of pride that can turn sincere compassion into opportunistic charity. Compassion from one hurting person to another is compassion in its purest form.

Home Town Rejection

The tiny hamlet of Nazareth was obscure. It never found mention in the Old Testament, Josephus, rabbinic literature, the Mishnah, or Talmud. The New Testament only identifies it in connection to Jesus Christ, and otherwise it would have remained as unknown to the average person in Jerusalem as Diller, Nebraska is to the average person in San Diego. Remarkably, Nazareth rejected the most extraordinary person they could ever claim as a hometown hero. This is not to say they were unimpressed. In fact many who heard him were astonished, but amazement is not the same as faith. They were in awe, but not in love, possessed fascination but not faith. When God becomes too familiar to you, he becomes too similar to you. Thinking Jesus is just like us leads to treating Jesus as if he is just like us. The people in Nazareth don’t even call him by name. They just refer to Jesus as “this man”. Where did “this man” get these things? The incarnation demanded complete humiliation of the Son of God, resulting the in the fact that humans would view Christ as just another human. Being human is condescending enough, but being thought of as nothing but human is inconceivable. This is what it means to be “found in human form” (Philippians 2:8) or “seen as nothing but human form”. His hometown rejected him, and they will bear the blame for that offense, but even today, regarding him an anything less than absolutely divine invites the same judgment.

Antimodel

opposite-arrows-istock-400w

“People focus on role models; it is more effective to find antimodels—people you don’t want to resemble when you grow up” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Solomon is my antimodel. My interest in him is not for lack of role models (I have many), but for variety. He is the opposite side of the coin. He is all the wrong answers and all the wrong decisions; all the failed experiments and the formulas that don’t add up. Just like we tend to learn a great deal from our own mistakes, we can look at him and thank the Lord we don’t have to suffer the consequences of making his. In reality it’s almost as hard to find such and exceptionally good antimodel. The reason is that no one had as much knowledge, wisdom, privilege, wealth, experience, opportunity, and divine favor as Solomon had, and simultaneously display such poor stewardship of the blessings. If there are mistakes to learn from, they are his. Solomon’s redeeming quality is that he stands out as the assembler of great wisdom learned the hard way. He is type of Samson who at least sacrifices himself for the good of others. He could have kept all that wisdom to himself, but instead he becomes the curator of the museum of knowledge where all the works of art are free for the taking even though he hadn’t the faith to take any himself. You don’t want to look like that when you grow up.

Wisdom Calling

Businessman Holding Megaphone to His Ear

The book of Proverbs depicts wisdom as a woman calling in the streets (1:20-23), attracting those with even a hit of common sense. Her wisdom can be found in the streets, the town square, the noisy din of commerce, and the city gates where men of consequence held court.

When we ask for wisdom like God tells us to in James 1:5, we have to be prepared for answers to come from various places. The most reliable place of course is the Word of God. There the infinite mind of God is revealed to us. His ways and words, towering above us are put on dramatic display. The whole man is built up and made wise by drinking deeply at this source.

The problem most of us face when it comes to decisions is that the Word of God seldom provides an explicit command that meets the need of the moment. In these cases wisdom and help can be found in multiple, carefully selected counselors (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 20:18).

The means of attaining wisdom are right in front of us. People who have a wealth of experience and insight can be found if we will just pick of the phone, write a short email, or stop by the house for a visit. In the streets, the coffee shops, the jobsite, or even city hall, people are a tremendous storehouse of information.

Beyond the Word of God and wise counsel, there is still the old standby consisting of investigation, research, analysis, and combing around for data. After all of this has been carefully done, the decision maker is in a much better (and much less emotional) place to make a wise plan. Prayers for wisdom need to be accompanied by the expectation that God will expect you to work hard, take advice, and be prepared to alter your course based on what you are learning.