Jesus promises to remove abuse both within the church and beyond, using the metaphor of a good shepherd, laying down his life for the sheep.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Abuse of others sadly has been the way of the world ever since Adam’s decision before God at the expense of Eve, and Cain’s “am I my brother’s keeper” defence after killing Abel. It is shocking, but unsurprising when it happens within the reputedly safe confines of the church. What are we to make of this in the light of the recent conclusion of the Royal Commission of Australia into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which found across the board abuse within all the organisations and institutions investigated?
Abuse is the wrongful use of anyone or anything, including the obvious anger and physical violence, as well as more subtle forms such as emotional abuse, and even substance abuse. The underlying motivation in all cases appears to be essentially selfishness, a trait which all humanity shares.
So how does Jesus address this in his own words? In the reading today he firstly uses the powerful agricultural image of people as sheep and him as the gate to safe pasture. He acknowledges a real enemy which comes to steal and kill and destroy, but immediately contrasts this with his mission: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 The thief –Satan-is firstly the very real spiritual enemy of our souls. Satan and his armies, actively oppose us and the Christian explanation of why the world is worse than can be explained by simply human brokenness. Secondly the zeitgeist (spirit of this age), our inherent selfishness, also causes us to steal, kill and destroy i.e. abuse the well-being of others. What a stark contrast are these to Jesus purpose to give us life to the full.
Jesus then elaborates on his earlier metaphor of people as sheep, by asserting he is the good shepherd. In this context, shepherding could be a dangerous profession, with the shepherd having to defend his sheep from wolves, and even lions and bears, often risking his life in the process. As the good shepherd Jesus lays down his life for the sheep, in contrast to the hired hand who abandons his sheep when he sees the wolf coming. I believe this metaphor could be interpreted to apply to abuse by those in the church in positions of authority. The abusers, although appointed as good shepherds, prove themselves to be wolves if they directly abuse those under their authority, or hired hands when they run away from dealing with the wolves.
And Jesus literally kept his word when he willingly laid down his life for humanity, taking upon himself on the cross all our brokenness, pain, and sinfulness, including the damage caused by the wolves and the hired hands. Finally, after paying for our sins once and for all, he proved his divinity by taking up his life again, promising good pastures to all who prove to be his, who hear his voice, uniting them as one flock, under the One Shepherd.
Head: We hold our leaders accountable for managing abuse in the church and rightly so, but what are some of the protection measures that can be implemented to reduce the risk of abuse?
Heart: If you have been abused in any way, how do you feel about Jesus invitation to go through his gate into safe pastures, if you follow him
Hands: Pray for church leaders, so they will not be led into temptation, and especially pray for the church to be seen to hold people accountable, where abuse has taken place.
Prayer: Lord, our brokenness and selfishness leads some people to abuse others, sometimes without even being aware of it. Thank you that Jesus, our Chief Shepherd, has laid down his life for us, his sheep, in order to save us from abusing others. We pray especially for those in authority in the church, that you would lead them not into temptation. And where we have hurt each other, we pray for your healing Lord, and the grace to forgive each other, as you have commanded us.
A song to listen to: This is Love