What comes to your mind when you hear “pastureland?” I think of words like provision, protection, security and peace — Psalm 23 serenity. For many in our world today, however, their current circumstances are the opposite of serenity.
We are entering the fourth week of Eastertide, the 50 day period which began on the eve of Easter and will conclude on the day of Pentecost. This year’s Eastertide season is unlike any other.
How are we to celebrate Easter resurrection in the midst of increasing numbers of reported infections and deaths, soaring unemployment rates with alarming economic forecasts? And what about the demonstrations against lockdowns and stay at home orders and the glaring global social inequities revealed by COVID 19?
I have sat with this week’s Eastertide text many times. What disorientates me this time around, in light of the present circumstances, is the end of verse 9. It’s the moment where Jesus declares that the sheep he leads will find pasture.
Now more than ever, much of the world’s population wakes up each day to a very “unpastureland” reality: no comfortable home to shelter in place, no income in the face of a global recession and no ability to socially distance or access to quality healthcare. So what do we do with this seemingly impossible promise?
Perhaps hope is to be found, not by focusing on the pasture, but instead on the Good Shepherd.
Sheep need shepherds, and I am hard pressed to think of a time when humanity has ever been in more need of “good shepherding.” The problem, of course, is that in times of great crisis many bad shepherds vy for the right to “lead.” But their ambition is opportunistic and rivalistic, and their pasture is a land that enshrines the value of scarcity.
The Good Shepherd, in comparison, leads his sheep in a very different way and to a very different destination. He enters the pen with his sheep, stepping into their world. He calls them each by name and leads them into the unknown, as opposed to driving them from behind with a whip. The Good Shepherd goes ahead of them to stand in front of their danger and take it on himself. The Good Shepherd’s way of leading shapes the sheep. In him they find pasture—a place of abundance, forgiveness, and love for the other. In him, they become who they were made to be.
Archbishop Oscar Romero, looking out over the devastation of war in his beloved El Salvador, pointed the sheep in his care during a time of much suffering and uncertainty to the oasis of true pastureland:
“People of our time,
anguished about so many problems,
deprived of hope
seeking paradise on this earth,
seek it not here,
seek it in Christ arisen.
Let us find in him relief for our afflictions,
for our worries,
for our anguish,
and in him let us place our hopes.”
The Good Shepherd invites us out from under the darkness of shadowy gloom and into the new morning of abundant pastureland. That is a current Easter resurrection reality and future promise even amidst the cloud of pandemic uncertainty.
As crazy as it sounds, this pastureland is not to be found in some romanticized distant land unmarked by things like COVID 19. It is to be found in the deserts we so desperately want to escape. This is where Jesus calls forth abundance. May it be so.