AS WE CELEBRATE Bible Sunday this year, we are confronted with the unusual words of Jesus to his disciples as he sends them out on mission - "I am sending you out like lambs among wolves." (Lk 10:3) Surely any sane shepherd would want to protect his flock from wolves and not send them into direct danger! Jesus, the Good Shepherd, seems to be deliberately asking for trouble! The added problem is that we, his lambs, are going to be the ones in trouble!
What does it mean to be lambs among wolves? What are the dangers that we might face in the "big bad world"? We might face apathy, total disregard or even opposition to the Good News.
Certainly there will be persecutions, either of the subtle kind but perhaps also more directly because of the faith we profess or the truth we stand for. What is more, we might even be seduced by the ways of the world that we lose our true identity as followers of Jesus and instead follow the world's ways.
The lambs might find themselves resembling the wolves they have been warned against! As disciples, we are called to listen to his voice and to follow the Shepherd (Jn 10:27), and have him as our model in every move and step.
Nevertheless, Jesus seems to be comfortable with the dangerous situation he puts us in. Obviously, he has trust and confidence in us â€¦ and himself! The Good Shepherd continues to guide and lead his lambs through the valley of darkness with his assuring crook and staff (Ps 23:4) just as he has promised to be with them always, "yes to the end of time" (Matt 28:20; Mk 16:20). He knows that when we are aware of our fears and vulnerability in the face of the dangers, we are then also aware of our need for God and will then learn to rely on him all the more.
Our protection is in the relationship we have with Jesus. Clinging on to him and relying on him, we cannot fail, even in the most difficult situations. His grace is indeed sufficient! (2 Cor 12:9) The inward strength the Shepherd gives is sufficient to overcome the outward threat of the wolves or any other danger.
Nevertheless, it is still rather scary to go out to the mission, especially when he seems to want us to go virtually empty-handed, with the barest of possessions - again another lesson in trusting Divine Providence, instead of our own abilities or the things and tools that we might possess.
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Today's world may seem to be interested solely in the material aspects of our lives and yet deep down in many, the rat race seems to have exposed a deeper hunger that the world and its attractions do not satisfy. People are hungry for authentic spirituality that sadly, organized religion has sometimes failed to deliver. "The harvest is rich indeed, yet the labourers are few" (Lk 10:2), perhaps because we disciples have not been fully aware or convinced of our mission. Surely we must reach out to those who are hungry for nourishment. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that "Human beings live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Mt 4:4; Dt 8:3) As Christians we must share the Good News we have received.
Yet, before we can actually share the Good News, we must ensure that we actually have encountered it ourselves. We ourselves need to listen to the voice of the Lord in the Scriptures - not just using our minds but also our hearts. "Let the Word of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you." (Col 3:16) Mere hearing or reading the Word is not enough, we need to truly listen inwardly, assimilate and then live out the Word in our everyday lives, not just keep it for Sundays. We need to have perseverance as we pray through his Word, and allow it to touch every aspect of our lives. Like Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, we disciples need to sit daily at the feet of Jesus as we absorb his Word (Lk 10:39). We must become intimately familiar with the Word so that it 'soaks' into us.
Having listened to the Word, we then need to "be doers of the Word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves" (James 1:22) - becoming more and more persons of integrity who live out our faith, who stand up for truth and justice and who are involved in the lives of others. Only by seeing our faith in action will others be convinced of the power of the Word. His Word is truly life-changing - "it is active and alive and more powerful than any double-edged sword." (Heb 4:12)
Armed with the Lord's Word, we, the lambs, will have no fear of the wolves among whom we are sent. May we be led forth in joy as we labour together with the Lord of the harvest, allowing his Word to be a lamp for our feet and a light on our path. (cf Ps 119:105)