Donegal is the northwestern-most county in Ireland. People from other parts of the country speak of Donegal as the hinterland, the wilds. It is the financially poorest of the twenty-six counties in the Republic of Ireland. But Donegal is rich in sheep.
One afternoon when we were children, my younger cousin Margaret took the lead as we set out to wander Donegal’s rugged hills and dark mountains the color of eggplant that jut out into the forbidding black sea. As we made our way down a narrow lane, the delight of our adventure was interrupted by a bone-chilling bleating.
Coming closer to the sound—was it bleating or pleading?—we saw the bramble shaking. A ewe drenched in its own blood struggled to break free from the barbed wire fence in which its head was caught. Margaret whispered: “The poor creature! She’s so frightened that she’ll rip off her own head trying to get free.”
We too lose our way, sometimes several times a day. With heads down and eyes fixed to our smartphones, we crash into others in public places. We stray in our relationships and lose sight of our commitments because we are so preoccupied and distracted. Our principles are easily compromised, our priorities forgotten, and our sense of purpose dims. And we turn our backs on what matters most and willfully march down a path that is a dead end. Suddenly we find ourselves stuck—lost with no way out. The heart bleats.
Today’s scripture advises us to live with our suffering and learn from it. Unlike the bloodied ewe bleating in the bramble, we often bring our suffering upon ourselves. But like her, when we flail and panic in desperate attempts to get out of what has us bound—when we try to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps—we will not get free.
My Shepherd, I cannot do it alone. You are not far. Draw near, stay close, especially when the hills are rugged, the waters forbidding, and the darkness of night descends. Amen.
The reading from Acts picks up the themes of mutual love and fellowship from last week’s readings and records that the display of these qualities captured the attention of the people in Jerusalem. When the church displays these qualities today, they still attract people to the Lord. The psalm and First Peter are linked by the theme of suffering. In Psalm 23, David is confident that God will stay with him even through the darkest valley. Peter encourages his audience to walk through that same valley, strengthened by the knowledge that God will never abandon them and that they are following the example of Christ. In John, Jesus declares that he is the way to safety for God’s sheep, so we should listen to his voice alone.
Read Acts 2:42-47. How do you see Good Time and Bad Time coexisting in your life or in your community?
Read Psalm 23. How do this psalm’s joys and comforts change when you consider the suffering of the psalmist in Psalm 22?
Read 1 Peter 2:19-25. When you have been caught in a struggle, how have your actions helped or worsened your situation?
Read John 10:1-10. How have you or someone you know attempted to enter God’s abundance by stealth? What does it mean for you to rectify this and enter through the gate?
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