During the season of Easter, most of the assigned Gospel lessons are from John 10. It paints a picture of shepherds tending their sheep and ends with Jesus saying that he is the gate through which we must enter.
Because there aren’t many sheepherders around today, we may not understand what Jesus is saying, but his original listeners got it immediately. Shepherds spent the night in the field with their sheep. They often would herd them into a cave or a canyon to keep them safe. In more open fields, stones would be piled up to form a fence or pen. In either case, the shepherd would lay their body across the entrance to keep the sheep in and the thieves out. A good shepherd literally would lay down his life for the sheep, though a hired hand might run off in the face of danger.
Jesus painted this familiar picture and noted that he was a good shepherd. Then he added, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” This was an important piece of theology, because his listeners believed God was responsible for everything that happened. Like so many terrible theologians today, they might have been heard to say, “Everything happens for a reason.”
If he was like me, Jesus was tempted to scream, “Yes, but sometimes the reason is you are stupid and make bad decisions.” (I’m sure Jesus was much more pastoral and patient than I am.)
I suppose everything does have a cause. Smoking can cause cancer, so sometimes the reason for cancer is that you smoked. More and more of us have respiratory problems, and the cause is the poor air quality in many cities. The reason our children can’t breathe, however, is human greed.
At other times disasters and diseases don’t have such an apparent cause. I think much of the current epidemic of cancer, like that which killed Bill last year, is caused by the pollution or pesticides that poison the good Earth.
The reason is mostly human greed, so it would be terrible theology for us to blame God as the reason. Saying that “everything happens for a reason” is artificial piety that makes God into a monster starving poor children and blessing rich tyrants.
That is the kind of bad theology that results from people being spiritual but not religious. Being the sole arbitrator of theology, rather than part of a healthy religious community, is dangerous.
Rev. Michael Piazza