The little boy came running up to me after Sunday school one day. In his hand, he brandished a sheet of construction paper upon which he’d crayoned a pastoral scene and pasted cotton balls.
As I leaned down to look, he pointed to the fluffy circles, explaining the big one was a shepherd and the smaller one was a lamb. “That’s Jesus,” he said earnestly, “and that’s me.”
Pictures of Jesus as a shepherd carrying a lamb can be found in the catacombs in Rome, as early as the 2nd century. The inspiration comes from John’s gospel when Jesus said he was the Good Shepherd, who would lay down his life for his sheep.
“My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me,” Jesus added, while warning about ferocious wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing.
Which voices do we follow? The voices of politicians? Entertainers? Sports figures?
There’s a cacophony of conflicting and noisy claims arising from advertising. Wear this and look sexy, drink this and get skinny, invest in this and get rich.
The entertainment world blasts the message that happiness comes from possessions, while the Hollywood divorce rate tells a different tale.
One danger of heeding false voices is ignoring the words within our own homes, such as the sullen retorts of a teenager, who needs help — or the pleading tones of a spouse, who feels neglected in the marriage.
Even when we claim to obey the Ten Commandments, we can be persuaded by sly voices suggesting that lying, cheating, stealing and adultery aren’t bad, as long as we don’t get caught. “After all, everyone does it.”
Some voices from the pulpit can lead us astray. Preachers of the prosperity gospel claim God blesses people with money and material goods, which means poor people are cut off from his favor.
In a world filled with thundering claims, the deeper, quiet words of the gospel message may be muffled. In fact, Jesus had nowhere to lay his head, identified himself with the poor and the meek, and warned against becoming attached to money.
And although prosperity preachers overlook it, he said rich people would struggle to enter heaven.
The image of a divine shepherd tells us God will protect us from falling off cliffs, which can plunge us into devastating spiritual danger.
As a die-hard rebel in my younger years, I didn’t see God as a gentle and loving father, who yearned to bring all his children into the fold. But even when I gave up on him, he still protected me.
I’ve come to see that the stirring image of God searching for the stray lamb reveals that he cherishes each of us and longs to take us to safety.
Still, how do we hear him amid the din of advertisers, media, movie stars and charlatans? He talks to us in the Bible and through people whose advice we can trust.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus advised — but how filled with fear some folks are, especially now. Afraid of getting sick, scared of being alone and scared of being with people.
Scripture rescues us from sinking into darkness, which comes from the howling wolves surrounding us. Prayer and Scripture will attune us to the voice of conscience, the pull of mercy and the tug of compassion.
We’ve been given a long stretch of time at home, apart from our usual routines. We have a chance to turn off the insistent sounds of false voices that promise happiness, but cannot deliver.
As we confront a world that has changed drastically, let’s tune into the one, unchangeable voice speaking deep in our hearts, which comes from the Good Shepherd: “Be still and know that I am God.”
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Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org