Fourth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, April 26, 2015
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
“The Bible has many images for God (The Word & You, Volume 1, Nan Duerling, United Church Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 1997, page 161). A pig would not among one of them especially in light of the story that is told of how Jesus gave permission for demons to leave a man and enter a herd of 2,000 swine or pigs (Matthew 8:28-34; Mark5:12-20; Luke 8:3339).
In what was once a more rural setting not so long ago, Mākena was a place where swine or pigs were common. When I first moved to Maui 25 years ago there was an abandoned pig pen near Mākena Landing.
At the time, the late Uncle George Ferreira maintained his own pig farm at the south end of Maluaka Beach. But most remember the pigs of the late Uncle Eddie Chang Sr. Over the years stories have been told of how Uncle Eddie would put out a call to his pigs when it was feeding time. They recognized his voice and it was said that the thousand or more pigs would make their way along the old mauka to makai ‘Ulupalakua road to their feeding troughs.
I imagine Uncle Eddie practiced good pig husbandry. He knew enough to spot pigs who fell ill and required attention. He probably monitored a sow wherever she became pregnant and provided care for newly born piglets making sure that they had good and frequent access to a sow’s milk during the first 24 hours because the milk provided a vital element of protection against viruses that cold cause illness (Pig Husbandry, www.naturalpigfarming.com/husandry.htm)
Those who practice good pig husbandry say that pigs enjoy human physical contact. They like to be spoken to and petted. They enjoy the interactions they have with their owners. Both come to an affectionate relationship that is mutual.
There is no fear between pig and owner. An implicit trust develops.
It may be a stretch for some of us this morning to think of God as the good pig farmer or what the Bible refers to as a swineherd – someone who takes care of pigs. Given the fact that pigs were common to our ancestors here in Hawaiʻi, the image of God as a good swineherd may help some of us appreciate more fully the image of God as a good shepherd.
In our reading from The Gospel According to John, the image of the good shepherd is transferred to Jesus. As the good shepherd Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). As awkward as it may sound, I would venture to say if Jesus had found his way to Mākena during his lifetime he may have said, “My pigs hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”
It would be too easy to think of pigs as dirty and dumb. We may bristle at the image a pig or a sheep. But like sheep we know that pigs are also intelligent animals.
Someone said it was cattle ranchers who started the rumor that sheep were dumb and dirty. But a closer look reveals that cows are herded from the rear with shouting and prodding from cowboys (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2008, page 450).
Sheep are no pushovers. They do not like being shouted at or prodded. “They actually prefer to be led” (Op. cit.).
Whether or not we think of ourselves as sheep or pigs, what is important is the relationship between the sheep and the shepherd, the pigs and the swineherd is based on what the shepherd or the swineherd does, not what the sheep or pigs do (Ibid., page 452). We may go astray but Jesus as our good shepherd promises that he will never let us go.
The Rev. Nancy Blakely, a Hospice chaplain emphasizes that promise. Jesus’ “voice will bring us back. We belong to him. This is a strong word of reassurance to us in our struggles to be faithful. In our choices each day as we practice our faith by saying yes to some voices and saying no to others, Jesus is there, going before us and leading us” (Op. cit.).
To know Jesus as our good shepherd does not mean that we are free from the harsh realities of life. But it does mean that through him God restores us to life and leads us. It does not mean we are left to confront evil without fear. But it does mean that God’s goodness and mercy shall guide us throughout our lives.
As I thought about our reading for today I realized that one point of stress for me is in knowing that while sheep provide wool for clothing and milk for us to consume, both sheep and pigs were and are a source of food for others. Both must die in order that others may live. Our reading reminds us that as our good shepherd, Jesus gave his very life so that we may have life.
As the good shepherd, he becomes the sacrificial lamb. It is Jesus who makes it clear that he gives his life willingly: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me . . . I lay down my life for the sheep. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:14, 15, 18).
This is the power of the resurrection faith we share. This is the good news that gives us hope.
We hear his voice.
I made the call yesterday. Her mom died earlier this year after living a long and fruitful live. As her health began to decline arrangements were made for her mom to move into an assisted-living community.
“Mom was doing fine for a while,” she said. “From time to time she would ask one of the caregivers, ‘Do you know Jesus? Are you looking for him?’”
I had long ago concluded that mom was a sheep and that Jesus was her shepherd. She knew his voice. Now she was allowing that voice to speak through her in a simple and gentle way. “Do you know Jesus?”
As people of the resurrection, we are also called to allow the voice of Jesus speak through us as we reach out to all whom we meet along our life’s journey – to say to others, “The Lord is my shepherd!”
The story is told that at a church program a little boy was to recite by heart, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” He started, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
Then, forgetting the rest and at a loss for words, he stopped. He started and stopped a second time and then a third. Finally, he said with great confidence, “The Lord is my shepherd, what more do I want?” (The Word & You, Volume 1, Nan Duerling, United Church Press, Cleveland, Ohio, 1997, page 162).
In this season of resurrection, may we find comfort in the image of the God we have come to know in Jesus Christ as our good shepherd; as our good swineherd. We hear his voice. He knows us and we know him.