Sunday, September 11, 2022

Sunday Thoughts

The typical Sunday liturgy for the Catholic Church has three readings from the Bible: An Old (or Jewish) Testament selection, a selection from the letters of Paul or other, non-Gospel writers and a selection from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

Today's selection from the Luke is one of the very longest selections outside of the Christmas and Easter narratives. It is from Luke 15:1-32. It contains the parable of the Lost Sheep, the Missing Coin and the Prodigal Son. 

It is unfortunate that the parable of the Lost Sheep is so close to the story of the Prodigal Son because it leads to a superficial examination of the story and some persistent myths, and I believe inaccurate, myths about God.

I make no claims about being a Biblical scholar but I did raise sheep for a decade and hiked and camped in climates similar to the Holy Land. I also have a smattering of history in my background. So please understand that I am not presenting this as FACT, but rather my own understanding of the story.

Jesus Milquetoast Christ

The popular culture embraced the Hallmark Card presentation of this story in the form of Jesus Milquetoast Christ. Viewed through the eyes of somebody who raised sheep, I believe this image could not be more incorrect.

Let's look this story through the eyes of somebody who knows about sheep, the minds' eyes of the people who heard the parable for the first time.

"What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?"

The only logical time that a shepherd would notice he was missing one out of a hundred sheep would be when he counted them. Note that the text says "sheep", not "lamb" as is usually rendered in art.

That would typically be when he ran them into a sheep-fold, often a rude corral to contain the sheep and provide a modicum of protection against night-time predators. It also made them easy to milk.

Shepherds counted knots-on-a-cord. Big knots might be ten and smaller knots singles. Small knots could be added as lambs were born.

So here we have the shepherd counting the sheep as they filed into the sheep-fold when he finds he is one short.

Night is falling because that is when he ran them into the fold. Duh!

The Holy Land, at the time of Christ had lions, leopards, bears, wolves, hyenas and venomous serpents. If not as indigenous populations then as transients. Most of these predators are active near dusk.

Our hero picks up his short spear...maybe with a six-foot long shaft tipped with a relatively small, bronze point...and walked out into the gathering darkness and hunting predators to find his lost sheep.

But wait...there is more

The most likely reason for the one sheep to becoming separated from the flock is that she gave birth in a secluded place and having bonded with the lamb(s) cannot leave them until they are able to move. Ewes and lambs bond and navigate by vocalizing.

Predators are hardwired to home in on the vocalizations of very young animals. It is an easy meal.

So our hero is not only going out into the dark without a flashlight and with low-tech weapons, he is knowingly going out and looking for a situation where it is highly likely that he will encounter apex predators vectoring into a meal.

Many of those predators will defer to him. They know humans are dangerous even in the dark.

Some will not defer to him. They might be hungry. They might have cubs of their own. Maybe they are just stupid.

So the shepherd eagerly thrust himself into harms' way because that is how HE is wired. He must have clanged when he walked.

Just like the first-responders did on 9/11/2001.

Just like God throws angels between us and dark forces.

This is not a cozy story to put children to sleep by.


  1. "So the shepherd eagerly thrust himself into harms' way because that is how HE is wired. He must have clanged when he walked.

    Just like the first-responders did on 9/11/2001.

    Just like God throws angels between us and dark forces.

    This is not a cozy story to put children to sleep by."

    Unless, your point is to tell your children that there are ADULTS who will place their (the childrens') welfare before the responders' own.
    The Thin Blue Line. The Thin Red Line. The Thin (colors for medics?) Line.

  2. There wasn't much room for wimps in the lower levels of society then. If you were a carpenter, you were probably also a stone mason. I see Popeye's forearms in my mind's eye. You don't fart with someone who pulls sail rope all day, or can heft beams and stone all day. Jesus wasn't some doe eyed softy, he was a man. Hard muscled. Meekness means strength under control. And He was that Personified.

    As some one that took care of a few sheep for about a year, I can tell you I was positively OFFENDED that Isaiah said "all we like sheep...." But the longer I'm alive, the more I have to agree. We are (and I am). Thank God, He called me out, so I don't have to wander aimlessly in the wilderness. And I can be the man He designed me to be. "For it takes God in the man, for man to be man, as God intended man to be." Bernard Briscoe

  3. But none of the ransomed ever knew
    how deep were the waters crossed;
    nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed thro'
    ere he found his sheep that was lost.
    Out in the desert he heard its cry —
    sick and helpless, and ready to die,
    sick and helpless, and ready to die.

  4. Amen, good points.
    As mentioned above, Jesus was likely a mason (Carpenters were wealthy since wood was rate there).
    He would have been a well built man, quite able to take care of himself.

  5. think of king david as a boy
    probably knocked off a few lions with his sling

  6. I was brought (dragged) up in rural, northern, British hill country in the 60’s-70’s (when farmers were still mostly using horses here, except in the ‘rich’ lowlands) and always had a slightly different perspective on “the good shepherd” than the common interpretation.

    Sheep tend to be farmed in the kinds of environments that just wont support any other kind of agriculture – hard, dangerous terrain, subject to weather extremes and multiple predators.

    I was repeatedly reminded later, as a member of the local Mountain Rescue Team, on setting out to rescue yet another goretex clad hiking/climbing team with every modern high-tech gadget and luxury available and … finding them being led off the hill by an old farmer wearing cords, wellies, a battered waxed-cotton coat and a flat cap who found them whilst out alone in a gale looking for his sheep.

    In an age when even the average man would have put our toughest to shame, shepherds would be the hardest of the hard. But, as in the days of my youth, men who were ‘meek’ in the sense of not preening, proud or boastful because … they would/could simply not understand/conceive that they were/had anything to be boastful about (unlike the rest of us viewing them).

    So much of The Bible is ‘misunderstood’ precisely because ’we’ use modern day interpretations, equivalents and sensibilities to do so. Many to the extent that the moral/lesson is taken as a polar opposite of what it would have been at the time it was written, and intended to be.

  7. I had not considered how risky the ancient shephard's job was. I had no idea that the large carnivores were present on the land. Your way to comparing the 9/11 first responders to the old shephards is a good one.

  8. Very interesting indeed.

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