My genealogical inquiries led to the discovery that my great-great-great-grandfather in Germany was a shepherd. This brought to mind the darling little shepherd boys of so many Christmas pageants, causing me to wonder what, exactly, the life of a shepherd was really like.
Research revealed that for my ancestor in 18th-century Germany, it was difficult. Shepherds were considered among the most dishonorable and despised of all people — in the same category as hangmen, grave-diggers and beggars. The social stigma was such that even their sons were considered repulsive.
But, of course, it wasn't always that way. We meet the first shepherd in Genesis 4:2: "Now Abel was a keeper of the sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground." The story goes on to say that both presented offerings to God. God had regard for Abel's offering but not for Cain's. That led to jealousy and, soon, to murder. It was the first of many conflicts between shepherds and farmers throughout history.
We meet many well-respected shepherds throughout the Old Testament: Abraham, Moses and David. In fact, in nomadic societies almost everyone was a shepherd, and it was noble work. But that changed as the Israelites migrated and came into contact with agricultural cultures. Shepherds were accused of ruining farmers' crops by grazing flocks on their land and even of theft. They weren't allowed to testify as witnesses in court because their word wasn't deemed trustworthy.
That was their lot at the time of Jesus' birth. On the Bethlehem hillside, these men in the lowest class were the first to hear "... to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2:11).
The lesson is one we know: Jesus came for everyone but had a special affinity for those shunned by society — like shepherds. During his ministry, he often identified himself as a shepherd — caring for us, his flock — as in this week's Gospel: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
I recall how disappointed I was when I learned that my great-great-great-grandfather had been a shepherd, shattering my image of prominent ancestors. No one revels in the thought of being descended from a despised segment of society. But then the biblical truth became my truth: It's not the world's opinion that counts but Jesus' love — the love of the Good Shepherd.
This week's front page features:
Hugger, shaker ... peacemaker? Magazine's readers share their views on passing the peace. (Illustration at right.)
A holy kiss: A little lesson about a big thing: Sharing peace.
Sharing the peace — everywhere: "Light side" readers have quick replies.
Virtue in fatigue? It might slow us down, so we could feel the Spirit blowing.
Also: Mosaic law.
Also: Be prepared.
Discuss passing the peace:
Discuss passing the peace with Karen Bockelman (right), an ELCA pastor who was part of the editorial team for communion and related rites of the Renewing Worship Project.
The conversation begins today and runs through April 15.
On our staff blog
Amber Leberman (right) asks: "What are your favorite Christian resources for children?"
Julie Sevig blogs about parenting coaches.
Worship opinions needed
Participate in an upcoming cover story in The Lutheran by responding to one or more of these questions:
1. Worship: What do congregational members want? What do worshipers need?
2. Worship in ELCA congregations varies, but essential elements remain. What are those elements for you?
3. How do we both honor traditional liturgy and make room for other worship styles?
Respond (500 words or less) via e-mail to email@example.com by May 20.
Please include your congregation, city and state.Or respond online ...
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