Donald Miller in his book, Blue Like Jazz, tells the following story he heard at a folk concert. It was told by one of the singers about a friend of hers in the military…
“A group of Navy SEALS was performing a covert operation, freeing hostages from a building in some dark part of the world. They flew in by helicopter, made their way to the compound and stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified. When the SEALS entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them they were Americans. The SEALS asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn’t. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. They were not of healthy mind and didn’t believe their rescuers were really Americans.
“The SEALS stood there, not knowing what to do. They couldn’t possibly carry everybody out. One of the SEALS…got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the other hostages, getting so close his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there for a little while until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The Navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and were there to rescue them. “Will you follow us?” he said. The soldier stood to his feet and one of the hostages did the same, then another, until all of them were willing to go…”
Miller goes on to say, “I never liked it when the preachers said we had to follow Jesus. Sometimes they would make Him sound angry. But I liked the story the folksinger told. I liked the idea of Jesus becoming man, so that we would be able to trust Him, and I like that He healed people and loved them and cared deeply about how people were feeling. When I understood that the decision to follow Jesus was very much like the decision the hostages had to make to follow their rescuer, I knew then that I needed to decide whether or not I would follow Him.”
Adapted from Donald Miller’s, Blue Like Jazz
When you let yourself contemplate the image of the Good Shepherd do you see yourself as a sheep? Do you see yourself as someone who needs to be rescued? Kept safe from wolves and rustlers? Or do you think the image of the Good Shepherd speaks to people of a bygone era? “I’m doing pretty good,” we say, “but every now and then I have to ask the Lord for help.” Are we like Hazel Moats, the character in Flannery O’Connor short story Wise Blood, who thinks that religion is for those who don’t have the sense to avoid desperate situations and con-men? He says, “Nobody with a good car needs to worry about nothin’; nobody with a good car needs to be justified.” “Justified” meaning “found, rescued, and brought out from a dangerous situation.” “Justified’ meaning led out safely to pasture, watched over and protected. In today’s terms, Hazel Moats might say, “If you got money in the bank, own your own home, and have a good internet connection you don’t need Jesus.”
The first day I moved into St. Paul Catholic Center at IU as a co-pastor I was putting books on a shelf and I looked up to see a man standing at my door. He smiled and introduced himself as the registrar of the university and a member of St. Paul. After a short conversation I asked him if he had any advice for me as a campus pastoral minister. He said, “Some of the priests who’ve come seem to think that they have to impress us with the latest theology. Me, I just come here to get something to get me through the week.”
It seems to me that this man of letters, gifted and empowered to watch over young people futures realized what Hazel Moats couldn’t. To be justified is to be graciously given something to get us through the week. You can have a good car, and money in the bank and a good internet connection and a title in front of your name, but if you don’t have Jesus who holds your hand and leads you in and out you are sure to get lost. We are all sheep.