Reflections on lamb & shepherd: themes from Taste & See series.

We rise with the lark and go to bed with the lamb. — Nicholas Breton
Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal.

Walk out of your house like a shepherd. — Rumi

I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed and nonviolent redemptive goodwill proclaimed the rule of the land. And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together … and none shall be afraid. — Martin Luther King Jr.

Questions to consider:

  • How do you reconcile the tension of “both-and” scenarios such as the image of lamb and shepherd? How does this mixing of images break down binaries and “either-or” ways of thinking?
  • Who might benefit from understanding the complexity of God’s identity as more than black-and-white or dualistic/binary?
  • Can you make sense of Love that is vulnerable and needs much support and guidance, yet also leads the way and takes responsibility? Who embodies such characteristics to you?
  • What examples of conflicting-yet-overlapping roles do you take on in your own life?
  • In what areas of your life do you need teaching, coaching, guidance, or mentoring? In what areas of life do you offer such service to others?

Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb
Mary had a little lamb, Its fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went, Mary went, Mary went
Everywhere that Mary went, The lamb was sure to go
— Sarah Josepha Hale


Moses and the Shepherd (excerpt) — Rumi

Moses heard a shepherd on the road praying,
“God, where are you? I want to help You, to fix Your shoes
and comb your hair. I want to wash Your clothes
and pick the lice off. I want to bring You milk,
to kiss Your little hands and feet when it’s time
for You to go to bed. I want to sweep Your room
and keep it neat. God, my sheep and goats
are Yours. All I can say, remembering You,
is ayyyyyyyyy and ahhhhhhhh.”

Moses could stand it no longer. “Who are you talking to?”

“The one who made us, and made the earth and made the sky.”

“Don’t talk about shoes and socks with God!
And what’s this with Your little hands and feet?
Such blasphemous familiarity sounds like
you’re chatting with your uncles.
…. Use appropriate terms … for addressing … Allah.”

The shepherd repented and tore his clothes and sighed
and wandered out into the desert.

A sudden revelation came then to Moses. God’s voice:
“You have separated Me from one of my own.
Did you come as a prophet to unite, or to sever?
I have given each being a separate and unique way
of seeing and knowing and saying that knowledge.
What seems wrong to you is right for him.
What is poison to one is honey to someone else.

… Ways of worshipping are not be ranked as better
or worse than one another. …
It’s all praise, and it’s all right.

It’s not Me that’s glorified in acts of worship.
It’s the worshippers! I don’t hear the words
they say. I look inside at the humility.
That broken-open lowliness is the Reality,
… Burn up your thinking and your forms of expression!”

… Moses ran after the shepherd.
He followed the bewildered footprints,
in one place moving straight like a castle
across a chessboard. In another, sideways, like a bishop.

… Moses finally caught up with him.
“I was wrong. God has revealed to me
that there are no rules for worship.
Say whatever and however your loving tells you to.
Your sweet blasphemy is the truest devotion.
Through you a whole world is freed.
Loosen your tongue and don’t worry what comes out.
It’ll all the light of the Spirit.” …

LAMBS & SHEEP

As Followers & Disciples

Sheep, like people, are ungovernable when hungry. — John Muir

I seem to have gathered up a stray lamb in my arms: you wandered out of the fold to seek your shepherd, did you, Jane? ― Charlotte Brontë

When you are new at sheep-raising and your ewe has a lamb, your impulse is to stay there and help it nurse and see to it and all. After a while, you know that the best thing you can do is walk out of the barn. — Wendell Berry

I’ve always been one for the horns, as you might say. Goats is clever. Sheep ain’t. No offence, my dear. ― Terry Pratchett

I looked at the stained-glass image of the lamb in the window above me, but that only reminded me that lambs are famous for being led to slaughter, or sometimes hanging out with lions in ill-advised relationships. ― Maureen Johnson 

…when you go to church, most churches when they have images of the good shepherd, they show Jesus carrying a nice fluffy lamb. Now fluffy little lambs don’t stray from their mommy’s. The sheep that will stray is the most obstreperous, troublesome one. It’s actually mind-blowing to think a good shepherd says, ‘I’m leaving 99 well-behaved sheep to go and search for this rogue.’ “And when he finds it he doesn’t pinch his ­nostrils. He gathers this thing up and says, ‘There is greater joy in heaven over this one than over the 99 who did not need to be found.’ … You and I would say what lousy stewardship. How can you want to invest in this thing when you’ve got these lovely well-behaved sheep? … No! It’s God who’s saying we have values that are turned upside down in heaven! — Desmond Tutu

Lambs have little chance to follow the right path if the shepherds go astray. — Joseph Wirthlin

As Sacrificial Offering 

To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. ― Mahatma Gandhi

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed and nonviolent redemptive goodwill proclaimed the rule of the land. And the lion and thelamb shall lie down together, and every man shall sit under his own vineand fig tree, and none shall be afraid. — Martin Luther King Jr

It is an interesting thing. Love. … It can turn lambs into heroes, and heroes into lambs. ― James William Peercy 

Because that is the way love works, and when someone we love suffers, we suffer with him, and we would not have it otherwise because the suffering and the love are one, just as it is with God’s love for us. — Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark

The only gift is a portion of thyself. … Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

All is the Self or Brahman. The saint, the sinner, the lamb, the tiger … as far as they have any reality, can be nothing else, because there is nothing else. — Swami Vivekananda

We should carry up our affections to the mansions prepared for us above, where eternity is the measure, felicity the state, angels the company, the lamb the light, and God the inheritance and portion of His people forever. — Jeremy Taylor

The Christian God’s power comes through his powerlessness and humility. Our God is much more properly called all-vulnerable than almighty, which we should have understood by the constant metaphor of “Lamb of God” found throughout the New Testament. But unfortunately, for the vast majority, he is still “the man upstairs,” a substantive noun more than an active verb. ― Richard Rohr

Skeptics on Lamb as Peace Symbol

It’s not in the nature of the lamb to mourn the lion. —Peter Watts

Only in art will the lion lie down with the lamb, and the rose grow without the thorn. — Martin Amis

Why did you make your people lambs, when the world is full of wolves? ― George R.R. Martin

The wolf always charges the lamb with muddying the stream. — Elihu Root

It is madness for sheep to talk peace with a wolf. — Thomas Fuller

Do I believe in arbitration? I do. But not in arbitration between the lion and the lamb, in which the lamb is in the morning found inside the lion. — Samuel Gompers

JEWISH & CHRISTIAN LAMB COMMENTARIES

Jesus … didn’t fit into simple binary categories. He was both human and divine, both servant and king, both the sacrificial lamb and the high priest, both dead and resurrected, and both temporal and eternal. Just as queer folk do not fit neatly into either blue or pink, Jesus does not fit neatly into a simple either-or binary system. — Patrick Cheng

I suspect, however, that the real reason that I struggle with shepherd imagery is this: I am resistant to being herded. I am also all too aware of how badly things can go wrong when we are overly willing to let ourselves be led. (“Lambs to the slaughter” comes too easily to mind.) … Christ likens us to sheep not because he expects us to be vapid, but because he counts us as valued. … Jesus’ call is grounded in his desire for a relationship with us, to know us and to be known by us. He expects us to engage in discernment, to ask questions, to be wise in the ways that we follow him. … He intends, too, for us to have this life together. Christ calls us to fields where following him means tending to one another—to our sheepmates. In the midst of my resistance to being herded, I have to take care not to forget that there are good reasons to travel in flocks. — Jan Richardson

To the artist He is the one altogether lovely, and to the educator He is the master teacher. To the philosopher He is the wisdom of God, and to the lonely He is a brother; to the sorrowful, a comforter to the bereaved, the resurrection and the life. And to the sinner he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin from the world. — John Gerstner

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. —Lutheran funeral liturgy

Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want. —Martin Luther

Jesus is the good shepherd because he the source of abundant life, first to the man born blind, giving him a new existence, new life — he is a new creation, a child of God (1:1; 12-13). Jesus is the good shepherd because he finds the man born blind after the blind man has been thrown out (9:35) which the disciples need to hear because they too will be thrown out (12:42; 16:1-2) and which they need to remember because Jesus found them (1:43). Jesus is the good shepherd because he knows his sheep and he calls them by name (Lazarus, 11:43; Mary Magdalene, 20:16). Jesus is the good shepherd because before he goes to the cross, he lays down his life by coming out of the garden, the fold, leaving his sheep protected and safe in the garden, giving himself up (no kiss from Judas) for the sake of his disciples, his sheep (18:4). Jesus is the good shepherd because he will take up his life again in the resurrection AND the ascension, the resurrection being our promise of life here and now (11:25) and the promise of life in our future; the ascension being the abiding place that Jesus prepares for the ones he loves (1:18; 13:23; 14:2). That is what’s good about a shepherd. — Karoline Lewis

The deep-time message of Jesus’ death is presented through a confluence of three healing images from his own Hebrew Scriptures: the scapegoat … the Passover lamb which is the innocent victim (Exodus 12); the “Lifted-Up One” or the homeopathic curing of the victim (Numbers 21:6-9) who becomes the problem to reveal the problem. The victim state has been the plight of most people who have ever lived on this earth, so in all three cases we see Jesus identifying with humanity at its most critical and vulnerable level. It is God in solidarity with the pain of the world, it seems, much more than God the omnipotent who, with a flick of the hand, overcomes all pain. But Jesus walks the victim journey in an extraordinary way.  He neither plays the victim card himself for his own aggrandizement, nor does he victimize anybody else, even his murderers. He forgives them all. ― Richard Rohr

At the Passover seder, Jews compare the ten plagues of Egypt with “blood, fire, and pillars of smoke”; discuss the fires that rained down upon Egypt in the midst of a hailstorm; invoke the paschal lamb and the obligation to roast it in fire, an action that preceded the exodus from Egypt when God protected the Israelites by means of a “pillar of fire.” And the seder concludes with a blessing for the retelling of the exodus and the hope for a restoration of burnt offerings and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. — Mosaic: Advanced Jewish Thought

God is the comic shepherd who gets more of a kick out of that one lost sheep once he finds it again than out of the ninety and nine who had the good sense not to get lost in the first place.  ― Frederick Buechner

In contrast to all that would rob us of life — the thieves and bandits he mentions — Jesus comes to give, not just life, but life in abundance. Not just survival, that is, but flourishing; not just getting by, but thriving; not just existence, but joy. Jesus offers, in sum, more life than most of us imagine possible. … That we are not only saved from something but also for something, for life in all its abundance here and now. — David Lose

Faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart at the Triune God. Believing, then, is directing the hearts’ attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to ‘behold the Lamb of God,’ and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. — Aiden Wilson Tozer