In C.E. 410 the Vandals had been looting and pillaging all over the Empire for decades, but now the unthinkable had happened and Rome had fallen. It would be only a matter of time before the whole gigantic complex structure of Roman civilization would fall apart and take everybody down with it. Darkness and death seemed inevitable. Augustine believed that Rome had fallen because the Christian Church had been subservient to a pagan secular authority. He advocated that the state should obey the moral authority of the Church. However his reaction to the barbarian raids was to offer a way of escape from the world by turning away from its harsh reality by forming closed monasteries. The material world according to Augustine was unimportant. As the religious communities retreated into isolation it left the rest of the population into the beginning of the dark ages. Thus these shepherds of God left their flock to the mercy of a crumbling and dangerous world.
The traditional role of a shepherd, through the ages, has been to guide its flock. Anyone familiar with the role of a shepherd knows that he does not lead but rather walks surrounded by them or directly behind them. Jesus perfectly reflects this example. He was a teacher, healer, lover, listener, comforter, etc., for both saint and sinner. In John 10:11-16 Jesus tells us . . . .“I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep. When the hired man, who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away; so the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them. The hired man runs away because he is only a hired man and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd. As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me. And I am willing to die for them. There are other sheep which belong to me that are not in this sheep pen. I must bring them, too; they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
We can know from reading the Gospels how Jesus ‘surrounded’ himself with people from all walks of life. Many came from questionable backgrounds such as the hated tax collectors, prostitutes, etc. but most of all the poor and marginal in society- which would no doubt have included homosexuals. No one was ever excluded from his touch or presence. In his humility he washed the feet of his disciples but never assumed the role of worldly leader. Instead, he always knew he needed to follow the will of his heavenly father (John 15:9-10). And in that we constantly find Jesus shepherding and serving those in need.
What an incredible understanding the brief passage from John that illustrates what Jesus meant to be a good shepherd. Here he tells us that as the good shepherd he is prepared to die for the sake of his flock and amazingly even for those who are not even part of the original flock! The meaning of that statement reveals the true depth and power of his unconditional love. The good shepherd reaches far beyond all limitations we have ever put on our definitions of who God came to save. This is surely the ultimate expression of God’s unconditional love for all humankind regardless of our belief, religion, colour or race. This is truly The Good News!!!
Today empires are crumbling all around us but not just those of a political nature. It seems that empirical religions throughout the world may have forgotten what it means to be a good shepherd.