In our dreams at night, we often play a number of parts at the same time in the same dream. Remember also that we do not always identify who people are in our dreams, because their faces are not always recognizable, and yet we often know who they are or who they are supposed to be. I remember a dream of mine in which I was the person laying out a picnic for a family in which I was also the father — so I had two roles in the same dream play.
When we come to talk about Easter we find that Jesus is often given two or three roles to play in the same drama also. When the writer of John’s gospel comes to explain the events of Easter through the shepherd sequence he tells us that Jesus is both the door as well as the shepherd and when the same story is taken over by the writer of the Book of Revelation he additionally becomes the lamb that was slain.
All of us play a variety of roles in our lives and they are played out simultaneously, not one after the other. A woman who came to see me because she was having problems in her marriage said, ‘I am lover and companion to my husband, mother and food provider to my children, administrator and housekeeper to the supermarket and bank, messenger and correspondent to friends and relations.’
Actually her problem was caused by another role she didn’t mention, that of child to her parents. She is not alone in playing many parts; we all do and have to because that it is how living is in our society.
The secret of good living is to know which part to be at the appropriate time.
When we become a member of another family, especially in a marriage, but not forgetting that we can also be accepted into other families through friendship, it takes a while to learn their history, which affects what we say and how we say it. In other words, when we play the part of friend or family member the more we know about them the better the role we can play.
For example if we are invited to a meal at a friend’s house it is good to know the occasion or reason for the meal. It may be just a meal between friends but equally it may be an anniversary or birthday or celebration for something else and to know what it is will determine the way we behave and act.
This is also true about the biblical stories and our interpretation of them. If we read the stories without knowing the significance of the occasion it would be like going to a birthday party and not understanding what was going on or why the people there were celebrating, or who the birthday person was. I was once invited to a grand dinner and did not know the protocol.
We were ushered into a huge hall, I remember, where a mountain of food was laid out. There were piles of caviar as though it were going out of fashion, meats of every description, fruits from every part of the world and drinks from fruit juices to cocktails to wine and spirits. All the guests assembled here and we circulated and talked and ate and drank the delicious food and drink for more than an hour.
Just as I was thinking what a wonderful evening it had been and how full I was, two massive doors opened at the end of the hall to reveal an even larger hall beyond in which a formal dinner was laid out. If only I had known the protocol, I would have behaved in a completely different way. If only the readers of the bible knew just what was happening in the stories and the family history of the people involved we would read with so much more understanding.
The Jesus discourse about the shepherd took place at Hanukkah. For many this is only the Christmas alternative for Jews and it is true it is celebrated just before the Christian Christmas in December but we should know that it is the Feast of Dedication that commemorates the victory of Judas Maccabaeus over the Syrians and his cleansing and rededication of the Temple.
We should also know that ‘shepherd’ is a biblical message word for ‘king’ so anyone who comes along and says ‘I am the true shepherd’ is saying that he is the true king. To say it at Hanukkah means that Jesus is offering himself as God’s anointed his Messiah and that he is expecting to set up a new royal household in a cleansed and renewed priesthood.
There is one difference, however, between Jesus and Judas Maccabaeus and a difference that is important. The Maccabean dynasty that lasted for a hundred years was set up through war and murder. What Jesus says about the shepherd/king role is so opposed to the warlike Maccabean priests pattern that it must have come as a huge shock to the hearers something akin to a minister in the Chavez government to criticize Simon Bolivar.
What Jesus says is that a kingdom based on anything less than self-giving love is a travesty of justice and nothing more than a distortion of real kingdoms. Ever since the time that Jesus gave this talk about shepherds it has been the benchmark against which all kingdoms are judged. All kingdoms being any regime or society organization in which people live in community.
The sheep are, of course, the citizens who hear and receive Jesus’ message of the perfect kingdom and act upon it. Through his life and death and resurrection Jesus has revealed God at work in the world and has demonstrated how a real kingdom of justice can be established.
We as Christians should be helping the world to redefine kingship and assist in establishing Jesus’ kingdom here on earth in our own generation. In working for this we will thwart those who are hell-bent on bringing about a new age that can only be attained through corruption and power by possession. We have to decide which we think is best and endorse it with our lives.
That is our Christian calling.
Bishop of St. Mary’s Anglican Catholic Cathedral, Caracas