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~ Lambs Versus Wolves ~

A close friend of mine likes to sign his letters with “Warrior for Christ” under his name. (I’ve seen pins and other kinds of jewelry engraved with that title.) A mutual friend of ours suggested he try, “Christ’s little lamb” instead. He now includes both.

“Little lamb” does not quite reflect my friend’s image of himself as much as “warrior” does, but I know he adopts both images in humility. The interplay between the two put me on a path of thought that led to profound implications for our spiritual development.

The Scriptures abound in references to spiritual warriors. St. Paul encourages us to “put on the full armor of God” since we “wrestle not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers of darkness in high places.” Jesus gave His disciples the power to “trample serpents and scorpions,” an obvious metaphor for spiritual battle.

So why then did Jesus send His disciples out into the world as “sheep among wolves”? Why not empower them as lions and tigers among wolves?

Before Pentecost, that’s what His disciples expected, to be the unconquerable army of lions and tigers under the leadership of the King of the Jews that would overthrow the occupying Roman Empire. Jesus was certainly tempted and pressured to go that direction and could have easily done it. He stuck, instead, to His mission of redemption, of not overcoming the Roman Empire but the more formidable opponent of sin and death, gaining not a tentative earthly conquest, a political but not soulful, an ego-satisfying but not transformative revolution, rather instead an immortal and everlasting kingdom “not of this world.”

Jesus could have sent His disciples out as lions or tigers among the wolves, whether it was a political or spiritual mission. So why sheep? Wolves run in packs led by the alpha male who maintains his status by his own personal power and strength. A wolf pack is not an image of the heavenly hosts but of the armies of satanic assault and dynamics.

Lions and tigers tend to congregate in family groups before leaving as individuals to start other families. This is not an image of the kingdom of God either, that rather calls us to be one family with no one starting their own denominational family. (Sadly, Christians, the “body of Christ,” have splintered into over 5000 denominations.)

A prevailing image Jesus evokes was that of the relationship between a shepherd and his flock. The shepherd loves his sheep and watches over them at great personal sacrifice involving sleep deprivation, individual attention, exposure to the elements of weather and environment, and risking injury and even death in defense of the flock from vicious predators. Jesus even made up a story of how great a joy it is to the shepherd to find one lost sheep out of the 99 who are secure and accounted for. That shepherd doesn’t kick the wayward sheep home out of disgust or anger for the trouble the animal caused. No, the shepherd picks it up and caringly carries it back to the flock, calling for a party to friends in celebration.

Curiously, Jesus wants His disciples to not only be sheep, but to be “gentle as doves yet clever as snakes.” I tangled with many snakes, and one was clever enough to pretend he was comfortably coiled and asleep in his tank only to surprise me with a robust injection of rattlesnake venom and ruined my plans for the rest of the week. (And that was after I had milked him of much of his venom!) Snakes tend to lie low and hidden. They are indeed rather clever to move so perfectly, silently and yet very quickly on the earth and without legs. Fascinating. Jesus said we’re to be like them. That isn’t part of the definition of warrior. Less so is His mandate to be gentle as doves. Those birds are not warriors either, no more than sheep.

The famous opening of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want” was, interestingly, written by a king. What kind of king (or president, prime minister, or dictator) would imply he was a sheep? (None that I know in any of our nations today.) One who, unlike wolves, lions and tigers, does not depend upon his personal power, but upon his All-powerful Shepherd. “Although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.” So I delight in being a sheep with such a Shepherd than in being the lion king of the world jungle. As St. Paul wrote, “The weaker I am the stronger He is in me.”

A folk song starts, “Mary had a little lamb…whose fleece was white as snow.” “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow…” (Revelation 1:14a). How interesting the King of kings should present Himself to the world as the sacrificial Lamb! We best be His little lambs, for that is how things are in the kingdom of God. Consider the state of our world’s affairs and that of our own souls ruled by people ever struggling for autonomy and power, whatever their motives, whether seeminly virtuous or suspect. We do need the Shepherd, and our greatest and most redemptive calling is to be little lambs. In following that calling lays our strength and wisdom.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Spiritual Resource Services  © December 3, 2004

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