Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Fedderson:
Have you ever envied or secretly admired those unbound by Christian ethics? Do you ever question why some of those shady dealers do so well while you struggle along?
Job did. “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” he asked. “Their homes are safe and free from fear.” (Job 21:7) And the Psalmist said, “I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked….This is what the wicked are like — always carefree, they increase in wealth.” (Ps. 73:3,12)
Of course, we’re reminded by Scripture that what we envy in such people is usually a false impression. The Lord warns, in today’s Old Testament lesson, that He “will never forget anything [dishonest people] have done.”
Yet, strangely enough, Jesus actually encourages His followers to learn something from those who are dishonest. In fact, we might call the chief character of His parable in today’s Gospel reading, “the Shepherd’s Crook.” The “crook” in this case is not a shepherd’s staff but a swindler and a thief whom Jesus uses to teach some important lessons.
The key to Jesus’ story is in verse 8: “The people of this world are more shrewd…than the people of the light.” Walt Whitman once wrote: “Have you not learned great lessons from those who reject you and brace themselves against you? Or who treat you with contempt, or dispute the passage with you?”
So what’s the great lesson of “the Shepherd’s Crook”? Basically it’s this: He always seizes the potential!
Like most thieves and embezzlers, “the Shepherd’s Crook” is caught. But note how little time he spends moaning about his situation. Rather, he immediately reviews what’s at his disposal — the possibilities he has for success, despite his current circumstance. He seizes the potential!
I discussed this parable with an elderly, retired theologian once, who was living in a nursing home. He was confined to a wheel chair because of an amputated leg, and he suffered from many other physical problems. But when he reflected on this parable, he laughed and said, “Oh, that’s a tough one! But it always reminds me of what a treasure we have in Jesus Christ. We often moan and groan about the ‘terrible circumstances’ of our lives,” he said, “and we are blind to the wonderful gift of God’s grace in Christ that has been entrusted to us!”
Speaking of that Christ “who gave Himself as a ransom for all men,” Timothy said, in our second reading — “For this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle!”
“The Shepherd’s Crook,” whose only goal was to take care of himself, knew how to change a blind alley into a freeway. No matter that he was to be fired — he seized the potential at his disposal to guarantee himself job offers all over town!
Unfortunately, Jesus is right when He says, “The people of this world are more shrewd…than are the people of the light.” Many new Christians and new congregations start out filled with enthusiasm, vision and a missionary zeal. They see themselves, like Timothy, as “heralds” of the good news of Christ’s salvation. But slowly many begin to suffer from a “pioneer syndrome.” Once they’re settled, with comfortable facilities and established programs, they burn out, their vision turns inward and they forget their mission. Like settlers, they build fences around what they have and then, invariably, they insist they cannot do more because they have such limited resources.
For our ransom, our Lord used all that He had, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.” He seized the potential to rescue us from eternal death. The lesson of “the Shepherd’s Crook” is for us to seize the potential as Christ’s heralds, using the resources God has blessed us with, not for our own gain but for the extension of His kingdom.
The Psalmist who admitted that he “envied the wicked,” went on to say: “Surely You [Lord] place them on slippery ground; You cast them to ruin….But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge, I will tell of all Your deeds!” (Ps. 73)
God grant us the grace to learn the lesson of “the Shepherd’s Crook,” to seize the potential and, with every resource we have, to be His heralds to the ends of the earth!