Sheep Without a Shepherd
BY Mark Shea
September 21-27, 2008 Issue | Posted 9/16/08 at 2:13 PM
Recently, a Democratic Party shill actually spoke of the “breakthrough” in the Democrats’ abortion platform with a straight face: “For the first time, the Democratic Party is using ‘reduce’ and ‘abortion’ in the same sentence, and for the first time, it talks about the decision to have a child and supporting that decision.”
Now, a culture whose ruling class seriously believes “not always seeking to murder babies” is a “breakthrough” is naturally going to produce a new generation who display the effects of such moral imbecility. We’ve been marinating in the culture of adult desire for 40 years. It should then come as no surprise when we hear stories like this on National Public Radio: “Sex Without Condoms Is the New Engagement Ring.” The website posted the following synopsis: “Youth Radio’s Pendarvis Harshaw says walking down the aisle is not as big a deal as throwing away the Trojans.”
It seems the children and grandchildren of the baby boomers are looking at the wreckage of Generation Narcissus’ scorched-earth approach to sexual wisdom and pathetically feeling their way through the ruins back to ideas like “commitment.” The heartbreaking NPR story announces that the way many youth announce “I love you and want to make it permanent” is not with an engagement ring, but by taking off the condom.
It is easy to weep and shake our fists.
But I think that Christ would emphasize something else. Scripture describes Jesus as having pity on his flock because they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). That image is not original to Matthew. He is alluding to Ezekiel 34, in which God roars out his anger at the shepherds of Israel who have fattened themselves on the weak and vulnerable, instead of caring for them.
The shepherds Ezekiel rails at bear an uncanny resemblance to the manufacturers of our cannibalistic culture who routinely corrupt the young with the worship of money, sex and power, and teach them to regard sex as a form of recreation and not as a gift ordered toward union, fruitfulness and the love of God.
To such shepherds, mandarins of culture, lever pullers and chattering classes, Ezekiel has nothing but dire words of warning, much like the Lord himself, with his dark and terrible images concerning millstones around the neck and plunging into the depths of the sea.
But for the lost sheep, Jesus is all tenderness, also like Ezekiel. Through the prophet God says, “Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep have been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness” (Ezekiel 34:10-12).
And Jesus himself remarks, when he speaks as the Good Shepherd, that “my sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27).
Paul notes something similar while preaching on the Areopagus, when he comments that humans are made to “feel after” God (Acts 17:27). So in a pagan (or post-Christian) culture covered by a “thick darkness” of spiritual and moral blindness, I think the response of Jesus to a story like this is, to be sure, anger at the manufacturers of culture — but also pity for kids like this.
In their own sad way, the youth in this story are facing reality far more clearly than the generation before them who labored to reduce sex to a plumbing problem.
They grasp that the sexual act is indeed the body’s declaration of lifelong fidelity. They see that contraception is the crossed fingers behind the back, the way of saying, “Well, not really,” while the lips say, “I love you and give myself completely to you and our family.”
So, in our sexually deranged culture, the poor pitiable kid whose highest expression of love is to take off a condom is something like the widow who offered two copper coins. It’s all he has left to him of the healthy, Christian understanding of marriage my generation robbed him of.
But he still has “eternity in his heart,” so he tries, in his cruelly debilitating moral poverty, to give what he can. I have to believe the Lord who multiplies loaves and fishes can work with that. Far more pitiable — and contemptible — are the dolts who handed him that deranged culture in the first place.
My generation, far more than his, has so much to answer for. May the Shepherd be merciful on that day.
Mark Shea is the content editor
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