Bad things do happen to good people... all the time. We all know this. It's such a common experience! But why do bad things like war, crime, cancer, betrayal, car bombs happen to good and innocent people? What about this Good Shepherd talk we hear in the Gospels? Is it simply wishful thinking, or is there really a Good Shepherd who tends the flock, who protects us against evildoers and evil things?
Good question! The answer may be found in the common culture of Jesus' time – namely that shepherd and sheep knew each other well and were bonded closely. The shepherd knows his sheep by name, by personality even. He knows which sheep are more likely to follow right away, which are more likely to hesitate , which are more likely to go off and get lost in the wild. When the shepherd calls, the sheep listen. They hear a familiar voice they know they can trust. No matter what is going on or what is about to happen, the bond of trust between shepherd and sheep is paramount. If the shepherd leads them, the sheep follow with trusting hearts.
During our seminary years of study, we spent countless hours in theology classes proving that God exists and that Jesus is truly divine and human. We learned to believe more strongly in the existence of God and Jesus. But believing is not the same as trusting. We don't learn trust in theology. We learn trust in prayer and in our life experiences. It is in and through our lives that the bond of trust with God and with the Good Shepherd grows strong.
This bond of trust gives us the confidence to follow the Shepherd wherever he leads us, through good times and bad, because in mind and heart we are completely and unabashedly convinced that we are loved. Yes, God loves us with a love beyond our understanding. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, loves us, and gives us the courage and energy to deal with whatever blows life sends us. Jesus does not insulate or immunize us from pain and suffering. He leads us through it by his own human pain and suffering, and then invites us to follow him.
Yes, bad things happen, even for the sheep who are deeply bonded with the Shepherd. But if we listen to the Shepherd's voice and follow his footsteps, then no trouble, no hardship, no pain can defeat us. No sadness can destroy us or drive away the joy of knowing we are deeply and personally bonded with this Shepherd we call “Good!”
On our part, we must stay connected. We cannot just say: We believe in God and in the Shepherd. Rather we have to say: “We trust God and we trust the Shepherd.” With that trust in place, we hope in adversity, we stand in courage and we laugh even in the face of death. Yes, we do! AMEN!