1 Cor 15:20-28
by Catarina Sá Couto – Missionária Leiga da Igreja Lusitana
Right! Left! Sheep and a Shepherd that splits them. This is the common ground we get in today’s readings. In Ezekiel, the weak sheep and the fat ones are split, in Matthew, sheep and goats are split, but for this ones and in Psalm 100, a Shepherd that exists or it will be sent, will take care directly of the sheep.
Sheep and Shepherd…
Have you noticed that in the Bible there is many quotations about animals?
Snakes, donkeys, lions, grasshoppers, doves, scorpions, big fish, frogs, gazelles, bears, horses and – also – the sheep.
One day I was in Terceira, an island from Azores, Portugal, with a couple friend of mine. He owned sheep and invited me to come with him to the daily routine of the flock.
I had never had the opportunity to be so near sheep. Watching them closely and being around them, I notice they can be very distracted doing something, but they keep an eye in everything. Even when they are eating and you are around; if you move, they stop eating and look at you. I can say they are always watching everything. I start thinking… with so many animals why Jesus compared us, his people, with sheep?
We had to substitute a fence for the sheep not to get lost, or out on the field. To do that, the sheep had to be move to the place where the field already had a strong fence, and he asked me to do that. The sheep were in front of me and I started to move in their direction for them to go into the front. However, when I started to move, they started to disperse walking in all directions. Feeling myself very incompetent, I started saying “no no no” and I walked to the sides trying to convince them to come back to the middle again, but they start to go even in other directions, and the flock was all disperse. My words sounds and walk, where just resulting in the opposite plan.
My friend just said “Uaei!” and pointed where he want them to go, and they just quickly went exactly to the right place. It looked easy, but it did not work with me…
Therefore, I could recognize one main characteristic in sheep: they are followers by nature, they follow, and they need to follow.
As you can see, when my friend call them they follow the shepherd, they recognized his voice, exactly as Jesus also said about us. However, is not just the pastor that the sheep follow, they can, too, continuously following each other. This is true; I invite you to search videos where you can see for example cars who cannot move because sheep are running around without stopping, barricading cars. This happens because they are following the tail of the sheep in front and going in circles without stopping. Unfortunately, when we do not recognize God’s voice, this happens to us as well.
Like sheep, we have the need to follow.
In Today’s readings, we also have the split of the flock by the Shepherd, who is God.
In Ezekiel the split happens between those who are fat and strong – who will be destroyed – and those who are weak, sick and in need and will be taking care; in Mathews, the split it is between the sheep who obeyed God’s will and goats who did not obeyed God`s will.
If we look into the world, where are the fat and strong sheep, and where are the sick ones?
Reading this Scriptures Lesson, I automatic thought about the north and south hemisphere: the sheep who are fat, strong (in global north) and the sheep who are sick, weak (in the global south).
WWF statics figure out that north hemisphere, with just ⅕ of the world population, consumes 70% of energy, 75% of metals, and 85% of wood world production. Many products consumed are produced in south hemisphere, polluting their countries and reducing the quality of life of its population.
I believe verses 18 to 22 are a direct message of God to us now and we can notice the difference on the north and south hemisphere:
“Some of you eat the greenest grass, then trample down what’s left when you finish. Others drink clean water, and then step in the water to make the rest of it muddy. That means my other sheep have nothing fit to eat or drink. Therefore, I, the Lord God, will separate you strong sheep from the weak. However, I will rescue them and no longer let them be mistreated. I will separate the good from the bad.”
So, in this scenario, where can we find the voice of God? What is following each other “tails”?
God’s voice is clear:
“I was sick and you take care of me, I was hungry and thirsty and you fed me, I was naked and you gave me clothes”.
How we follow each other?
When we do what those around us are doing, continuing just because we always do that.
In our world people who take care of this weak sheep, being zero waste, vegan, buying second hand and not doing a rush purchase just because, buying local in a few kilometres of their houses by purpose, are the people seen as: radicals, hippies or extremists.
However, Jesus, against all odds, in today’s gospel, gives an answer: you will be saved because “I was sick and you took care of me, I was hungry and thirsty and you fed me, I was naked and you gave me clothes. “When were you sick and I took care of you?” says perhaps the vegan, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed (…)” like the South Hemisphere for a lot of people and countries, “(…) you did it for me”. Therefore, he did, so they did, with their life style and daily choices. Conserving resources, and giving, in this globalization, food and water to the ones in need. Consuming less meat, saving water, making less carbon emissions with transport or energy, this can save people.
As sheep, when are we following each other tails?
I think, when we don’t change our habits because it’s normal, other sheep are doing it, using the car, usually alone, just for a few meters from our house, instead of using public transports; wasting food buying more then we need or will eat; consuming and wasting for an exaggerated comfort – almost wanting to achieve a perfect life conditions.
When we do this, we are not seeing the necessities of needing in the South Hemisphere and so, not hearing God’s voice.
So what will happen to the fat sheep? The Goats? Jesus is also clear…
Everything seems difficult in a very easy, comfort, fast, rapid capitalist world that the North Hemisphere lives on. However, exactly there, are people who show us that it can be possible to change, that it is possible to live with less, with no destruction, no garbage, no wasting.
Wherever, being more “green” or not, the first thing is we have to look at this people, stop seeing them as “defective” but people who, every day, make a difference in the life of the needing of the global south. The air doesn’t have frontiers, so every carbon emission goes to all; the water flows into every country and continent, so the water we waste in our country have consequences on every countries special the ones who have less water, more heating, more drought. This is where the sick sheep, the thirsty sheep and the hungry sheep are. Therefore, as God’s followers in today scriptures those are the ones we must take care.
What can we do?
- Take a cloth shopping bag to the market to avoid producing more garbage, prevent trees cutting industries – in case of paper.
- Stop eating meat every day in every meal or at least stop buying beef or products of beef industry.
- Buy local or grow your own food – herbs, tomato, pepper…
- Do not make printings in paper if there is an alternative or you do not know if it will be used.
- Do not drink bottled water but, if drinkable, drink from the public system.
- …And so other many advice you can look on Green Anglicans or Environmental Anglican Network campaigns for Lent, The Season of Creation, or other resources.
I can only leave with you St. Paul words from today’s reading:
“I ask the glorious Father and God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give you his Spirit. The Spirit will make you wise and let you understand what it means to know God. My prayer is that light will flood your hearts and you will understand the hope given to you when God chose you. Then you will discover the glorious blessings that will be yours together with all God’s people.” – Ephesians 1, 17-18
As sheep, we will not move if we do not hear the voice of the Shepherd, and if we do not move we can get lost from the Shepherd and make that other sheep may be lost too, or preventing for them to follow each other, and then, we can go around in circles forever. To stop growth of Climate Change, and, has the reading said, to get to the safe green hill, we have to let us be guide by the Good Shepherd. In addition, he just asks us to love one another as ourselves.
With this focus, we can do everything for creation.
Make a difference starting today, take care of the needing, protect the Global South, and change your habits to more green ones.
Here is the voice of the Shepherd in your daily life.
by Catarina Sá Couto, Missionária Leiga da Igreja Lusitana