Last year my wife and I visited Yellowstone National Park. In addition to the geysers, hot springs, and rugged beauty we got to see a lot of wildlife – elk, bear, and of course bison.
One animal we did not see was wolves. We heard many stories about wolves though. The history of how wolves were exterminated from Yellowstone and then repopulated with wolves from Canada starting in in 1995 is fascinating. Wolves restored the natural balance by reducing the elk herds, which in turn allowed vegetation to come back.
It is the nature of the wolf to attack and kill. Though they seldom if ever attack humans, wolves are featured in many folktales and children’s books as representing the primitive, unpredictable, and dangerous forces of nature.
Its not that way with sheep. Rather than giving us nightmares, we count sheep to enter restful sleep. The nature of a sheep is to be gentle, and I’m pretty sure no lamb was ever dangerous for anyone.
The way of a wolf is primitive and dangerous. The way of the lamb is gentle and peaceful. Which way do you choose?
It is sheep, lambs, that Jesus holds up as an example to the 72 disciples when he sends them into the world telling them: Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Take no money, no food, not even a stick to defend yourself.
Make no mistake, Jesus’ command to go preach the Kingdom of God applies to you just as much as to the 72 disciples. A serious disciple of Jesus Christ cannot live without dangers and taking risks for the master. In sending us out as lambs, Jesus is not advocating a fatalist view as if to say some people are wolves and some are sheep, and you must accept your status in life and learn to live with it. Instead, He is telling us what the world view of a disciple must be – that of the lambs and not of the wolves. Jesus does not want us to respond like the world, think like the world, or act like the world. Jesus expects His people to be set apart so that the world will know us by our love. No one sees the wolf as an example of love. Rather than interacting with the world with force and heartlessness, Jesus over and over calls his disciples to be gentle, kind, compassionate, prayerful, and humble.
When the sheep are attacked their shepherd reacts by gathering the sheep together. The sheep huddle in a group with the lambs in the middle. They depend not on their strength but that of the shepherd.
Jesus gave us the Church to gather us together for protection. Christianity is not meant to be a go-it-alone religion. When we are isolated, we are in more danger and sin is the thing that isolates us. Temptation is always there, waiting for an opportunity to attack when we are at our weakest. The fallen world is hostile to Gospel values; the enemy and the sinful flesh wage a constant war on the Christian.
Under attack our human nature is either to fight back, as a wolf would, or to run and hide. Those are not the way of the lamb and neither of these strategies will lead to safety. Those who attack us are much stronger and more intelligent than we are. We cannot expect to depend on our own strength. No, the lamb gathers in the midst of its family and depends on the shepherd for protection. With our baptism we are brothers and sisters of Jesus, family members to all the baptized. Jesus the good shepherd tells us to be like lambs and instead of depending on our own strength against the dangers of the world, gather in the midst of his people and take refuge in him. The Church is the body of Christ on earth; the sacraments are our sustenance and strength.
The 72 sent out as lambs returned rejoicing saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” By facing the dangers of the mission, by taking the risks involved in discipleship, they have come to realize the faithfulness of God and the power of Jesus’ name. They realize that their success is due to the name of Jesus they invoked with faith and not of their own power. They have come to grasp their need for the Good Shepherd and rejoice in their greater union with him by participating in his mission. Having grasped their need for God and having grown in their desire for Him, Jesus now tells them not to rejoice because “the spirits are subject to them” but to rejoice “because their names are written in heaven.” Their names are written in heaven because, by being lambs in the midst of wolves, they have learned their need for God and they have grown in love for him. There is no way we can ever hope for heaven without having a true sense of our need for God and a lasting desire for Him.
We have been commissioned to go and preach the Kingdom of God. It is an imperative. It is a commandment. Jesus is not blind to the realities of what will happen when you do, and yet tells you to be a lamb in the midst of wolves. Our religion is one of love and peace, not tooth and claw. Each day as you go out, look at your life and ask- am I travelling the path of the wolf, dependent on my own strength and wisdom? Am I blending in with the world?
Or am I working to gather a harvest for God? Bringing the gospel message of love and salvation to this world?
Be the lamb. Be the peace.