“Go call the cows”, my father would say, and we would walk out to the pasture and we would say, “Come boss, come boss.” At the sound of our voices the cows would raise their heads and all of them would start to follow us until they got to the barn. One by one each would enter the barn and go to the same stanchion they had gone to the day before. It seemed kind of magical to me at the time that the cows listened to us and that they knew just where to go.
Now I know that the cows had figured out that our voice meant food and water. If they listened to our voice they would get milked and get hay to eat in their manger and have a nice warm place to sleep for the night and in the morning they would be let out again to return to the pasture. They trusted us and we never let them down.
Jesus speaks of this same issue with his words from the Gospel of John when He says that the sheep “Know His Voice”. In His day sheep also knew the voice of the shepherd who took care of them. When the shepherd came to the sheep corral in the morning and spoke to them, they left the safety of the corral and followed the shepherd because they knew He was going to lead them to green pastures and still waters. They knew He would feed them and protect them and sustain them. So there was routine in their lives. There was predictability. There was trust that their shepherd would not let them down.
This raises a question in my mind and perhaps it also raises the same question in your mind as well. When you hear voices that say, “This pandemic has been way overblown. The cure is worse than the disease. It is time to get back to work and get the economy going again. Maybe a few older people will succumb to the virus but for the livelihood of the vast majority this may be a price we have to pay.” As we hear these voices advocating livelihood at the expense of life we also hear voices that say, “Take care of the widow and the fatherless. In as much as you have done this to the least of my brothers you have done it unto me. He leads me to green pastures and still waters. He restores my soul. I have come that you might have life to the full,” we hear these voices advocating that life is more important than livelihood.
Perhaps this can give us some insight in our current struggles with how to proceed in our battle with COVID. Rather than pitting livelihood against those who advocate for life we might see that our good Shepherd is calling us to embrace both. We need to work and we need to protect our health. Rather then saying, “It is either having a job or having the virus,” we should be trying to find ways of how do we protect ourselves and our neighbor while at the same time trying to keep our economy going. This approach seems to be the one that most states are following. Trying to do enough testing and tracing to find out where the hot spots are so the spread of the virus can be kept as low as humanly possible while bringing back jobs in a slow and measured way is a way to try to protect both our livelihoods and our lives. So the voices that say,”It is time to open things up” may not be the voice that has a concern for those who will most affected by the virus flaring up and reaching epidemic proportions if this gamble doesn’t work out. Our elderly, our hospital and health care workers, our service workers, our police and fire department workers, all will pay a heavy price if the virus becomes even more wide spread than it is now.
As this pandemic goes on and we all grow restless and fearful and we question the wisdom and advice of our leaders and we hear people pushing to get going I am hoping we can all take a deep breath at this moment. Listen carefully to all the voices you hear around you. Read the news carefully and think through all the implications of what might come out of decisions made in the days to come. And listen especially to what the voices are advocating. Is the strategy being proposed being done because this will be good for me and my neighbor? Will it be done in a way that we all bear the pain together? That all of us are in this together and each of us has something to contribute that will ease the burden of those who can’t bear it by themselves? Maybe this will help all of us to know that this is the voice of the Shepherd who loves us.