From: T.M. Schoewe
We are still in the old season of Eastertide and one of the Sundays always dwells on the Risen Lord as the Good Shepherd and us as the lost sheep. Artists and poets have made prolific use of this theme but much of their art and poetry, although well meant, does not represent “The Shepherd” portrayed in John’s gospel (ch.12) and Peter’s Epistle (2:21), and the same is true of the manger scene and how we have come to depict the Christmas story.
The Church in which we grew up had many large stained glass windows. High in a vaulted arch of stained glass above the front entrance was the large figure of the Good Shepherd. The terrain is that of an English countryside with a fine stand of green grass mantling the rolling hills, and strolling through it in front and center is this bearded lady with long, finely combed hair, carrying on the carefully draped gown a freshly laundered lamb. A couple of other sheep are walking on either side of the bearded lady. We imagined as a child they were heading for a rose covered cottage for tea or lemonade. It is a lovely scene with the fertile valley and dewy meadows where peaceful streams slowly flow and meander through the green glory of the landscape. This picture is as false and phony as a three dollar bill. Actually it is heretical, for it gives expression to the two ancient lies Satan perpetrated in the Garden of Eden, the one about God, and the one about man. We should be glad to confess that God is good, but we seem to mix up real goodness with just being nice. You might remember Lou Durocher’s crack that “nice guys don’t win ball games.” We are strange people because we often do not want the truth. The nicer God is, the better we like it, and the better we like Him. If there is any one hope to which man has hung onto through the whole course of his tortured and wandering history, it is the hope of getting God under control and making Him man’s servant rather than his master. So the Russians some time ago just decided to get rid of Him. And in our determinations to just have a nice God, a tame God, we have recreated the Trinity to our liking. The Father is a tottering old gentleman, essentially mean and bad tempered but harmless since Jesus bought Him off on Calvary’s cross. The Holy Spirit whom the ancient church adored as the Fount of Life and Fire, we have fashioned into a pigeon, a nice bird. And our blessed risen Lord by whom all things were made, becomes the gentle, nice shepherd; that mild, bearded lady of the church window I recall as a child.
We who look into the scriptures ask questions. We ask, where is this shepherd and all the green glory and the super nicety images pictured in the church window? Surely this is not the Good Shepherd of John’s gospel and Peter’s epistle. Where in the stained glass picture is the wrestler with the wolves, the blood soaked defender of the flock? Where is the man of the outdoors, the tough, hard-muscled, burnt by the sun and worn by the wind man who sweats and bleeds? Where is He Who fights beasts and lays down His life for the sheep, the man Who bore our sins in His own body on the tree and whose hands and feet and side were pierced? Well may we complain about those who have sentimentalized the faith, and say with Mary outside the sepulcher complaining to the gardener, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they have laid Him.”
Finally, could it be that maybe this substitution of a bearded lady for the Good Shepherd is why Christianity is so largely irrelevant to our generation? In our age of technology, much scientific research is available via the internet and it is easy to find out what’s a myth or based on false assumption(s) or inaccurate knowledge. And if there ever was a false picture, it is church window shepherds with brushed hair and spotless garments surrounded by snow white sheep. No wonder some honest souls outside the church have secretly classed Christian clergyman with card sharps or medicine peddlers or insurance salesmen.
And then there are the sheep in that picture that we need to talk about. They seem to be lost right now and will show up in next week’s article.
P.S. Some of what I am alluding to here about the bearded lady will become clearer when we talk about the sheep next week. Stay tuned!