What if God’s Love Comes Before Your Mistakes?
By Beth Demme
It surprised me. I didn’t expect to find new, and personal meaning, in a concept as old as shepherding.
I was studying John 10:1-10 for a recent sermon. In this passage, Jesus refers to himself as the shepherd and also the gate. My favorite part of this passage has always been the last verse, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
I especially connect with this part of the verse because I have experienced God’s abundant love, but it’s also true that I like the idea of an abundant life.
For most of my life, I have equated an abundant life with an abundance of things. I’ve let go of that kind of thinking, but I still don’t really like the idea of being a sheep. Maybe because thinking about Jesus as the shepherd conjures up images of church Christmas plays, with young shepherds dressed in their father’s bathrobes? But I digress…
Luckily, Margaret Feinberg wrote a book back in 2009 called, Scouting the Divine.
She researched concepts like shepherding, harvesting, milk & honey, and growing fruit on a vine – common themes in the Bible and things that would have been well understood in biblical times but are now foreign to me and possibly to you, too.
Margaret spent time with a shepherd, a woman named Lynne, who raises Shetland sheep in Oregon. By reading about Margaret’s experience with Lynne I learned a lot about what it means, on a practical level, for Jesus to be our shepherd. Re-reading it recently opened a new layer of understanding and made me realize how beautiful it is to be one of Jesus’ sheep.
At one point, Lynne introduced Margaret to the sheep. It went something like this:
Here’s Opal. She’s especially protective of her lamb this year, maybe because it was a difficult pregnancy. You know, her voice is different from the other sheep, raspier. And here’s Iris. Her nickname is “herself” because she’s so confident. But on a warm, sunny day, she loves to lay down beside me in the field. Here’s Meggie. She’s the granny of the group, and boy does she get grumpy! But usually, she’s very loving. Ah, and here’s little Jovita. She thinks she’s a lap dog. Dove is her mom, but actually Iris is raising her.
And on, and on, through the whole flock.
It struck me that everything Lynne said about her sheep reflected her love of them, even when she talked about their personality quirks and stubborn streaks; what we might call their growing edges.
Lynne spoke that way about her sheep because her love for them was greater than their imperfections.
I think it’s the same for our shepherd, Jesus. I think God’s love comes before our mistakes.
I love the image of Jesus as a shepherd who knows me the way Lynne knows her sheep and who speaks of me in a way that reflects his love and grace. As if when someone comes to visit him he might say, “oh, there’s Beth. She tends to wander. She thinks she can do it all on her own. But it’s okay, she never wanders so far I can’t bring her back. And, you know, she and I really love each other.”
I struggle with self-sufficiency. I’m not a very good sheep. As I said, I’m not sure I even like the metaphor of being a sheep. I tend to follow my own voice instead of listening for the voice of my shepherd, but my failures are nothing compared to God’s love.
My failures are completely subsumed in God’s incredible, endless love. “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” (Psalm 36:5) I “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)
When I think about it that way, being a sheep is actually a pretty wonderful thing. The Lord IS my shepherd, I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1)
What about you? What loving thing would Jesus say about you? How might God re-cast your growing edges as minor inconveniences compared to the vastness of his love for you? Tell me about it in the comments, in an email, or on Facebook.
More Like This From Beth: