Mothers are strong. There were no laws that I had to wear a helmet. So I didn’t. I was nine, and I rode my bike everywhere and thought nothing of it. Until that day. There was a big hill on the gravel road that led to my house. I had gone down it a hundred times before, but on this particular day there was some loose gravel near the bottom where I would reach top speed. Some people describe traumatic events as if they occur in slow motion, but this was a blur. I vaguely remember the handlebars shaking violently, and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground, wondering why my hands were so wet. I had wrecked my bicycle and landed on my head. I suppose the impact had knocked me out for a few moments, and it took a little while for my vision to return and confirm that the wetness on my hands was in fact blood. I don’t know if it was pain, or fear, or shock, and I don’t know how long I had lain there in the middle of the road, but I found myself unable to travel on my own. I must have been going in and out of consciousness, but I remember my mother cradling me in her arms, wrapping my shirt around my head, and carrying me the quarter mile walk back to our house for the car ride to the emergency room. (There were no cell phones then!) I was a big boy for my age, and my mother hadn’t been able to pick me up for a few years, but on that day she carried me hundreds of yards. Sometimes when there’s great need in front of you, you find strength you never knew you had.
Shepherds take care of their own. My mother was my shepherd on that day, and she rescued me with strength she didn’t know she had. The shepherds of the world find strength to face threats in the field that can be great: lions, bears, wild dogs, depending on the geography and wildlife of the area. The image of God (and later Jesus) in the Bible as shepherd is a beautiful metaphor for how God takes care of us. We find this same care in a mother’s love. I think God built it into the universe, little tiny imitations of God’s shepherding love all over the place. Sometimes we need a little wake-up call, a little reminder that we’re supposed to be helping the Good Shepherd in our own lives.
My dad loves to go hunting, and on one particular elk hunting trip to Colorado, he found himself in the middle of a massive herd of some 3,000 sheep. It was a wooded area, so he didn’t see it coming, and the herd was so big that he was in the middle of it before he knew what was happening, with sheep in every direction and more and more coming as far as he could see in the distance. That’s when the dogs showed up. The enormous sheepdogs made a circle around him, baring their teeth and trying to decide if he was a threat to the sheep. Luckily for him, about that time the shepherd showed up and called off the dogs. It’s incredible that that many sheep can be transported hundreds of miles with only one shepherd on the watch. But he can’t do it alone. He needs help.
That’s right. I just claimed that we are called to be God’s sheepdogs, helpers of the Good Shepherd. And as far as I can tell, it takes two extreme characteristics: sometimes we have to be fierce like those dogs circling my father, fighting injustice and standing up for those who can’t speak for themselves, and sometimes we have to have a gentle strength like my mother, carrying those who can’t carry on alone. Make no mistake–the Good Shepherd is at work in this world, but sometimes the work of the shepherd is done by the sheepdogs. We have work to do. May we find strength and wisdom to be fierce or gentle as the occasion calls. May we never miss an opportunity to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world. ~Justin