Yesterday was “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Jesus the Good Shepherd said in John’s Gospel, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). I could have used Jesus and his good shepherding this morning, both for myself and for a guest.
I was at Manna House and I had just finished plugging in the coffee. As I headed from the kitchen into the living room I could hear someone yelling. I went outside. Standing on the patio in the front yard was a woman shouting at the few guests who had gathered early. It was just before 7am. Manna House would not open for another hour.
She turned to me, “They don’t want to listen. They don’t want to be saved. They want to go to hell. The Lord has put it upon me to save them and save them I will.”
“Could you save them a little less loudly?” I asked.
Apparently she could not. Her screed continued with vile and vivid descriptions of the sins of the guests gathered, along with a few obscene gestures. The stream of words was chaotic, with little islands of sense in the midst of the nonsense. “These people need to hear it. They are evil. They are from Satan. I cannot be silenced. The Lord has put upon me to preach and preach I must.” This was more street screeching than it was street preaching.
I remembered to stay calm and not raise my voice, “I’m asking you to leave today.”
“Call the police on me if you want. I’m not leaving.” This statement was spiced with some rather creative swearing and invective. And now she was in my face up on the front porch, waving a rolled up magazine at me.
“I’m not calling the police. I am asking you to leave for the morning.”
I stepped inside the house and called Kathleen. I needed her calming voice and support. The woman outside must have thought I had called the police. She went down the steps of the porch, paused to throw our front yard garbage can (thankfully empty), gathered her belongings, and then went down the street to who knows where. Her inner anguish continued to spill out as she went.
Where’s the Good Shepherd when you need him? She was a lost sheep, and I certainly was not much of a shepherd. Manna House had little to offer her and this morning, since I asked her to leave, she was denied even that little. Our hospitality is not that of the Good Shepherd. Ask us for something and sometimes you will receive. Knock at our door and sometimes it will be opened unto you (Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 8am-11:30am).
Thankfully I have seen some good shepherding when people like this woman get the help they need, get housing, get health care, and get well. But not this woman, not this morning.
In fact, you can go to any large city in the U.S. and find on the streets someone like this woman. Lost in a fog of mental illness, without housing, without medical care, subject to the violence of wolves who will rape and abuse, she is not alone.
She is among the poorest of the poor. Last night she slept on cardboard underneath the awning of the building across from Manna House. And though she is poor, she is not the problem. The problem is that as bad shepherds we would rather spend our tax dollars on more military, more prisons, more football stadiums and basketball arenas than help her.
The problem is that we elect bad shepherds like the ones running the Tennessee legislature. They deny funding for health care while passing bills to make the Bible the state book of Tennessee and to discriminate against gays, lesbians, and transgendered people.
The problem is also in our hearts. They are not the hearts of good shepherds. Instead, they are closed and hardened like Pharaoh’s, satisfied with keeping people enslaved and exploited. We are like the anti-Good Shepherd. We have learned to accept the presence of the suffering on our streets all over this country.
When I went back inside, I prayed Psalm 23. Come Good Shepherd come! We need some green pastures, still waters and restored souls. We need some goodness and mercy. Maybe tomorrow the Good Shepherd will show up and this woman and I will have a better morning.