The Parable of the Good Shepherd: An Experimental Exegesis

March 25, 2014Ryan Jarrell

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I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 12  But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. 13  The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. 14  I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. 

 -John 10:11-14

I ain’t talkin bout no money, I ain’t talking bout no cars,
I ain’t talking bout no diamonds cause that shit is a façade

-ASAP Rocky, Wassup 

As a newly convinced Quaker, this often under quoted parable was presented to me as the biblical basis of the pastorless organization of our worship community. And this point cannot be understated. If we are to bring the sweet solitude of the anti-cultural Kingdom of Heaven to the rooting places of Empire, our places of worship need to exemplify these values first and foremost. However, as my worship deepens and I continue to face that Spirit of the scripture in the desert of the heart, I find my Religious Societies simplistic explication of this particular parable lacks a certain depth. Upon increasing meditation, I find this sliver, more than a base allegation against the merits of monetary compensation, indeed unfolds into a critical facet of the Ghostly Shepherd’s ministry.

It when lacking the spirit of this parable that the Church transforms into its overly-popular image, as an institution that operates as some sort of eschatological credit union. Provide proper payments of undying loyalty to ecclesiastical leadership, unthinking devotion and a blemishless interior life and you will be rewarded with an ineffably gratifying pleasure cruise, heaven as the proverbial gold watch for years of devoted service to the almighty Jesus Inc. In short, the good dog gets a biscuit. Bad dogs are excommunicated and brow-battered till broken. When this mercenarism runs rampant in the Church, great things fail, or never form in the first place. So caught up in securing salvation, we damn the here and now.

We do good for pay, a pay fantastical, but reward-based labor just the same. This type of thinking distorts God and we into a slave-master relationship, instead of the friendship and familial ties that Jesus stresses.

Rabia al-basri, awe-inspiring Sufic saint, sympathizes sincerely with Yeshua Meshiah when she states

O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.

I must admit, the Spirit opened this scripture for me, and for quite a while I was satisfied. Not only had I seemingly out-witted George Fox and the rest of my Society’s founders, but I had discounted an ideology I found personally abhorrent. Like many theologians before me, I tucked the passage away, thoughtlessly scanning the lines in question when they arose in daily scripture study. And then I woke the fuck up.

While involved in local Occupy protests, myself and other activists of various shades of the anarchical spectrum occupied a building long abandoned in downtown Chapel Hill, intending to open a community center. Within twenty four hours, while we cleaned, crafted makeshift mattresses for the homeless and deboarded long shuttered windows, we were raided in an unprovoked and unannounced assault by the local SWAT equivalent. At one point I had four or more semi-automatic rifles aimed at my person, some fingers even lightly placed against triggers. It totally sucked.

The weeks that followed were eclipsed by a bevy of emotions. Paranoia was present. Indignation, certainly. Fear, to a limited extent. Far and above, the feeling I most often grappled with was elation, a notorious suave tinting my every move and statement. I held a badge of honor. I had community wide acceptance of my status as an activist, a revolutionary feared by the powers that be. What a load of unmitigated horseshit. I did what I did, even volunteered early in our protest to be arrested, all for this prideful pay-off. I did these activities with mixed motives. YHWH was present, certainly, but locking horns with my wrathful ego.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be imprisoned for our beliefs. If I attempted to, scripture would rebuke me at almost every turn. I am MOST CERTAINLY not saying we shouldn’t have these beliefs. But to act as an anarchist in order to be recognized as such is a betrayal of the Spirit. To come to Christ for identity is broken and backward. The Vine enjoins us to lose ourselves, and our activism must erupt from the no-place. Otherwise we risk retreating into the mindless salvation sales we struggle to leave behind.

The last thing I want to achieve in penning this article is to paint myself as some self-important guru so thoroughly drenched in the Lamb’s Blood my shit doesn’t smell like solid, sickly farts. To act entirely outside the self is a task impossible, perhaps never to be completed perfectly, so at every turn I must sink into the mellifluous Spirit till I feel guided aright. And a lot of times it totally sucks. But fuck it, you know? It’s what we gotta do.

  • Frank

    “O God! If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,
    and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.
    But if I worship You for Your Own sake,
    grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.”

    I should note that traditional societies recognized that though we all have ‘The Spirit’ within us, for most people, because of the Fall, it is as if covered with ice; or to put it another way, in the sphere of ‘spiritual activity’ we are not equal.

    The above passage may work very well for someone of a naturally strong spiritual disposition, but it is not a sentiment that an entire civilization could live by…and one should note that this is why Sufism (like analogous initiatory groups in other religions) is somewhat separate from the mainstream of Islam.

    I suppose one should also note that Semitic monotheism (especially when expressed by Semites!) at times tends to favor emotional voluntarism over logic or proportion or decorum (by decorum I mean here what is good for the society as a whole)…logic and decorum be damned as long as my point is gotten across! That is the attitude.

    The fact is, most people in our latter days need the motivation of fear and reward to move them to a deeper faith.

    I will agree it is more noble to approach God for his own sake only; but God knows the extreme weakness of our current state, more so than we do, and He knows the inability of most of us to approach Him as selfless mystics, and thus ‘His Mercy precedeth his Wrath’. In the end God loves both the mystic drowned in his Spirit as well as the more ‘hardened’ soul who prays every night out of fear of being damned…and neither of the two should think God loves one of them more than the other.

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