For some time now I have been hovering around the question of what Jesus the Christ (a.k.a. the Anointed One) really was from the evidence available, rather than from the mythology built up around him as part of a personality cult. The reported words of Jesus in the Bible's New Testament may not be entirely reliable. Where possible, therefore, other sources need to be studied such as, for example, the Nag Hammadi Scriptures. I also need to study my own reactions to the biblical sources to try to determine whether, and how much, my personal prejudices about the Christ, gained from diverse sources, may influence my conclusions about who and what he was. In short, I need to answer questions such as,
"What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?"
"But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment?"
"But what went ye out for to see? A prophet?" (Matthew 11:7-9)
And I must admit to not knowing the answers to these questions. I need to open my eyes through meditation, and hope that I see what is there, not what I would like to be there. With this in mind I can now approach the parable of 'The Good Shepherd.' (Matthew 18:12-14). This is the well-known story about the shepherd who, discovering he has lost one of his one hundred sheep, goes into the mountains in search of that lost sheep, whilst leaving the rest of the flock on a hillside.
Now as a child, and even later since I lacked the interest to query the story, I was taught that this epitomises the love that Jesus has for even the weakest, meanest, of his spiritual flock. No-one is so worthless that they cannot be saved. This was all part of the 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild,' and the almost long-suffering parent that strove to keep me out of spiritual and moral danger. It was good old Victorian child discipline through the agency of guilt. And that could be a powerful weapon in the hands of one adept at using it. But what does this parable really mean?
What kind of shepherd is it that leaves most of his flock alone on a hillside, undefended against possible, prowling predators, whilst he sets off to try to find one sheep whose survival instincts do not appear to be entirely up to scratch? What kind of shepherd is it that is unable to cut his losses, and settle for the 99% of the flock he still has? Or, and I think this is the crucial question, what is it about that one particular sheep that is worth saving, that marks it out as being different from the rest of the flock? In answering this last question I think I may come a little closer to understanding who this 1st. Century Master of spiritual philosophy was trying to say, and what it said about him.
There are countless stories of people, often teenagers and children (but not exclusively so by any means), who 'kick over the traces', refuse to conform to accepted mores, who 'go it alone', and who make good! These are the people who refuse, or who do not feel led, to follow the flock or the herd. They are the ones who strike out alone, leave their comfort zone, in search of something more, something deeper, something more worthwhile in life. These people are special in society. And that search for greater meaning and understanding is not easy. The paths to their goals often require great courage, great fortitude, and not a little humility and doubt. Without the constant companion of doubt, spiritual pride all too easily raises its head.
But that is not the end of the matter. At some stage, with some luck perhaps and a great deal of perseverance, they attain their goal and return to the fold and pass on what they have experienced and learned. This is the meaning behind the universal hero myths. We have been blessed with many such spiritual heroes in our history. And in modern times we have had our Mahatma Ghandis, Martin Luther Kings, Nelson Mandelas and many others, all following the inner call as did the Jesus the Christs and Gautama Buddhas of old, and too many more to be named here. If I have mentioned only great spiritual and political leaders here, it is not to ignore the leaders, both male and female, in other fields, the arts, medicine, engineering, science and so on.
It is the fact that humanity generates these people that, for me, is the wonder of our species. Too often I look at the world around me.....and I despair. Oh lord, I despair. But so long as there are those who seek truth, understanding and wisdom, there is always hope.