Editor’s note: This is the last of our posts centering around the word “perissos” as found in Ephesians 3:20 and John 10:10. In the future, we’ll offer a greater variety and breadth of scripture, but we wanted to explore some of the depths of these two passages first.
“So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
“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.’”
When my roommates leave for work in the morning, I sit in front of my laptop at the dining room table with an open plastic baggie of $6.99/pound medium-sliced turkey breast and a glass of the finest D.C. tap water.
After I hand deliver a meat disk to my mouth, I wipe my poultry-moistened hands on my basketball shorts and/or t-shirt before returning to my writing. I get up periodically to pee with the door open and to pause for a thorough nose-picking (and I mean really digging with dedication, not quickly or in secret like some phony).
All the while, I tell myself, “This is how all the great writers do it.’”
I don’t know if it’s a function of living in D.C. or simply being an adult, but I hear “What do you do?” a lot when I meet new people.
The question appeals to an instinct that wants so badly to assess my relation to each person I’ve just met: am I as impressive, as interesting, as virtuous, as important, as accomplished, as unique as this stranger holding the same drink as me? It’s a weird cocktail of polite banter, genuine interest/admiration, and wandering envy or, even worse, deluded superiority. At the end of it, sometimes “what do you do?” feels like a proxy for “who are you?”
To appease my own insecurity, I’m going to assume that I’m not the only one who does this. But if I am the only one, um, crap.
At any rate, when people ask me “What do you do?” I tell them that I’m a writer. Of course, the reality is that I don’t know if I’m truly a writer, whatever that means, but I do have very clear nasal passages.
The Gospel of John does this a lot.
After all, this is where Jesus makes most of his obscure “I am…” claims: the bread, the truth, the light, and the shepherd. How Jesus answers that question of “who are you?” compels you to assess your relation to him—
If I tell you that I’ve started to wear my helmet when I ride my bike, that’s good. It also means that, as a person without health insurance, I’ve been extremely stupid.
If I tell you that I’m learning a new skill (like writing), that’s good. It also means that I suck right now.
But if I need a therapist, does that mean I’m having issues?
But if I have to apologize, does that mean I’ve hurt you?
But if Jesus claims to be the shepherd, does that mean I’m a sheep?
I love the “I am the shepherd” analogy here because the implication in this passage from John is that the wolves come. Wolves are not a maybe occurrence.
I don’t know what your wolves are. It could be career uncertainty, bullying, paying the bills, illness, broken and complex relationships—romantic, familial, or otherwise. I have no idea.
But when my life is difficult or challenging, I often exacerbate it by being upset—that I don’t have the wisdom to conceive of solutions, that I don’t have the faith to trust in God, that I can’t do anything about my current circumstances, that I’ve done something wrong to lead me to this point.
It is my reaction, my flailing defense, to my wolves that whets their teeth.
The blessing in accepting sheep-hood/sheepiness is that defending against the wolves is no longer my job. There’s a shepherd for that. And that thought alone, that I am not solely responsible for my own sustenance and protection, is not just comforting—it’s salvific.
Though Psalm 23 is a good accompaniment to this passage, I prefer 2 Chronicles 20:15: “This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.’”
We will not overcome if we ask God to wait while we handle this battle. We cannot be shepherded as long as we continue to think that we do not need one. If we can accept that the trial or difficulty is not one we face alone, but one where our battles and our wolves are met first and finally by God, it’s okay to be sheep.
It’s okay to be scared, vulnerable, doubting, and powerless sheep.
But let The Shepherd shepherd and let you be sheep.
He is shepherd.
You are sheep.
I am sheep.
So step back. Breathe easy and deep through your nostrils.
I don’t know if I’ve told you, but mine are very clear.