The Tent: A safe place for shepherds to reflect together
Joined: 12 Sep 2007
|Posted: Sat Dec 05, 2009 6:48 pm Post subject: Witnessing Shepherds
For this Advent season I thought spiritual shepherds â€œwatching their flocks by night (and day!)â€ might appreciate the following reflections on the familiar account in Luke 2. Though well-known to us both in public liturgy and drama (e.g. the Herdmans), perhaps thereâ€™s more here to enlighten the shepherdâ€™s mind and encourage the shepherdâ€™s soul.
First, a word about the shepherdâ€™s occupation. In light of certain rabbinic texts, it appears that shepherds in first century Palestine were not highly regarded. Assuming they were prone to dishonesty, herders were not legitimate witnesses in court. Luke deliberately highlights the â€œunlikelyâ€ people who participate in the Nativity account: an unwed mother, a barren woman, a widow in the Temple courts, and these field shepherds.
Thinking more analogically, letâ€™s consider for a moment the reality that spiritual shepherds are typically among those disregarded in our own society. With ambiguous roles and wildly ranging expectations, pastors often feel unappreciated and overly criticized. Ministry, especially among youth, is often seen as a substitute for or stepping stone to a more important career, i.e., a â€œreal job.â€ The salaries often reinforce the sentiment.
Thereâ€™s more than a demeaning livelihood in this scene however. Luke infuses the rustic reality of shepherding with a royal and even divine dimension. This mix of theological threads in the fabric of Luke 2 includes allusions to Micah 5:1-5. God predicts a ruler from Bethlehem who will shepherd His flock. More subtly sits an echo from the Greek version of Exodus 15:13, where God promises to lead His people to his â€œguest roomâ€ (katalyma). Luke uses this same uncommon term in 2:7, erroneously translated â€œinnâ€ (with inn keepers forever etched in our minds!). Another unusual term for manger (phatne) in 2:7, 12, 16 might recall a reference in Isa. 1:3 to God Himself.
The geographical context in Luke 2 further illuminates the role of the shepherds. Some sources indicate that the fields between Jerusalem and Bethlehem were reserved for Temple flocks. If this is the case, then these shepherds were tending highly valued, ritually certifiable livestock. They were entrusted with the very animals that served as substitutionary sacrifices for Godâ€™s people.
Let me draw out another implication. The importance of shepherding has everything to do with the value and identity of our flock. Such is the case metaphorically. Paul said to the Ephesian elders, â€œBe shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.â€ Every life we care for is worth dying for. Thatâ€™s how the Divine Shepherd came to become the Lamb of God.
Another observation: One of the commonly heard phrases from this account describes shepherds â€œkeeping watch over their flocks by nightâ€ (Luke 2:8 KJV). A literal and better translation reads, â€œkeeping watches.â€ Shepherds would take turns through the night watches, making sure that their flocks were protected from wolves and thieves. Like soldiers sharing guard duty, field shepherds canâ€™t expect a good nightâ€™s sleep.
Once again I find a suitable parallel to the work of spiritual shepherds. We take breaks from our work, but mostly take turns. The work of caring is ceaseless, even when the day is officially over.
Next, notice the shepherdsâ€™ responsiveness to the angelic visitation. They â€œhurried offâ€ to â€œsee the thing that â€¦ the Lord has told us aboutâ€ (vv. 15-16). These unnamed wardens were not only tirelessly overseeing the predictable behavior of their animals; they were attentive to something unprecedented that God was doing. The notion of â€œwatchingâ€ was important among first century Jewish groups like those at Qumran. The virtual nighttime of spiritual darkness would soon give way to the dawn of the Day of the Lord. Being ready for His advent was vitally important. The shepherds seemed to have brought divine perspective even to Mary and Joseph.
Perhaps this scene will provide a reminder that good shepherds are always ready to recognize Godâ€™s activity, wherever and whenever it occurs. That kind of perception is hard to come by when the daily grind is overwhelming.
Finally, watch the shepherds return back to their fields, â€œglorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.â€ Following their own personal encounter with the Incarnation, they worshipped God and bore testimony. Yes, though excluded in court as legitimate witnesses, these shepherds could provide credible evidence of what they had â€œheard and seen.â€ The Gospels are full of witnesses whom Jesus accumulated during his life. Fundamental to any message they shared was a living testimony of personal experience.
Like these shepherds we are witnesses to Godâ€™s work before we are anything else. Before we â€œdoâ€ anything for Him, we watch Him at work on our behalf. This Advent season, we join the angels in their joy over Godâ€™s favor on all people.
Tim Laniak, Th.D.
|All times are GMT - 5 Hours
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2005 phpBB Group