“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” ~John 10:11
“Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” ~Jesus to Peter, John 21
In one of his Port William short stories, Wendell Berry describes the love that comes from true knowledge as a minister’s wife observes a young farmer giving himself to his vocation.
He had lifted from a nearby pen an orphan lamb and was holding it, its long legs dangling, in one hand, a nippled bottle of cow’s milk in the other. And suddenly she was filled with knowledge of him that was like love, or was love. In him, as he stood before her then, she saw the ancient unthanked care of shepherds. The sheep merely suffered what was to be suffered, living the given life, dying the given death. They did not ask for care or appreciate it when they received it. And yet the care was given. The flocks throve by no care commensurate with a price, but by an overplus of love, filling a known need in the shepherd, passionate and beyond memory old.
~Wendell Berry, “A Desirable Woman”
In coming to know the love of this young shepherd, the woman comes to know in a deeper way the love her own husband expresses in his ministry. It seems to me there are two words of encouragement we can draw from this excerpt.
One, in this time of Lent, Holy Week and Easter we are once again gathered into the flock of Christ our Good Shepherd. We live a given life. The shepherd laid his life down for his sheep. Christ has given you his very life, and now, his very Living Presence dwells in you. Jesus continues his good work of feeding, tending, and protecting us from all evil.
The second word of encouragement comes in how Christ extends his shepherding care to us and to the world. He cares for us by giving us to one another. Our Risen Lord calls us to love him through tending to his flock. All of us.
Every one of you are called to this work which extends far beyond “churchly” events and practices. You may cradle an orphan lamb or a newborn child or the hand of a bereaved friend. You may raise a nippled bottle of milk in a barn or offer a laden plate of thanksgiving supper to a neighbor – be it friend or stranger. This work is “passionate and beyond memory old.” At times the overplus of love is reciprocated. At times we extend an ancient unthanked care. In all times, Christ is risen indeed! It is time to feed.