Define safety. What does it mean for you to feel safe?
In the Hebrew literature of the Psalms and Proverbs, Yahweh is portrayed as a physical and spiritual presence–and place of safety. A refuge. A comfort from the storms of life. Yahweh is also portrayed as a safe space for those on the margins, those who are lonely, oppressed, or afraid.
Fast forward to Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish person, raised in this tradition. How Jesus saw Yahweh or Abba, was akin to the views of Psalms and wisdom literature. God, for Jesus, was calling people to a place of acceptance, safety, and abundant life. God would gather people to God’s self like a mother hen gathers her chicks.
Eventually, long after Jesus of Nazareth had died, those who followed him came up with metaphors for Jesus. One of the most overlooked metaphors was the the metaphor of the Good Shepherd. Surely many of you have heard of Psalm 23, i.e. the lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…
Well, the Gospel writers would have been well aware of this image. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ identity is expressed with I AM statements, in Greek the ego eimi. In fact, John’s Jesus uses this phrase seven times. I AM…the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth, and the life, and the true vine. And in John 10 Jesus also expressed what Jesus is not. Jesus is not a thief or destroyer of life, but instead a giver of life, a full life.
John’s metaphor involved sheep, a shepherd, and a gate. Jesus was portrayed as a good shepherd, one who will lay down one’s own life for the sheep and stand with them when they are in trouble.
Consider that this image of Jesus as good shepherd is a more ancient symbol for Jesus than the cross. Before Roman Christianity developed its own symbols, followers of Jesus resonated with the simple image of a shepherd who cares for sheep and knows them by name.
The comparison of people to sheep is not meant as an insult, though it is oft-understood this way. The metaphor of human beings as sheep means that human beings have a capacity, like sheep, to hear their shepherd. It refers to that part of the human psyche which listens for a True Voice.
And yet, particular brands of Christianity [including American Christianity] have skewed Jesus’ message and even the image of the good shepherd to be about exclusion, judgement, and even violence. It is so sad to know that there are people who claim to be a follower of this Jesus and consistently mistreat people because of their cultural or linguistic heritage; their gender expression or identification; who they love; how much money they have; the color of their skin.
This is why it is essential for us to not be silent while this is going on.
We cannot hide from the wolves and thieves who seek to destroy. We must confront them, for the sake of our friends and neighbors who are being bullied, and excluded, and told that their lives do not have value. We must change the narrative and express that ALL deserve safe pastures.
So I’m interested in doing that, but in community, and with intention. How, in community, can we create safe spaces for those on the margins?
I’ll be asking these questions the next few months. Please join in the conversation by posting in the comments section….THX