by Ross Decker Sr
I love Spanky. He is my Chihuahua. I admit to being a bit over the top in my affection for him, but who could blame me? Spanky is the greatest dog I’ve ever known. He’s the best dog I’ve ever heard of. In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s the best dog who has ever lived.
Despite all that, every now and then Spanky bites me. Once he was sleeping under the covers near my feet. I called to him and patted the mattress. I wanted him to come up closer so that I could pet him. He just looked at me for a moment and then stood up. I took that to mean that he was coming up to lay down next to me and I reached for him. That was when, much to my surprise, he bit me. Hard! He snarled and growled and drew blood. I yelled “no” and flipped him onto his back. That’s what I was taught to do when I took him to the obedience class he flunked. I locked eyes with him until he looked away in submission. Then, I got up and got the Band-Aids.
While I was putting the Band Aid on I started to think about what had just happened. I love that dog and I know he loves me. But he bit me. He can’t even feed himself. He needs me to do it for him. And he bit me. I buy the food, open the bag and put it into the bowl. He sees me do it. And he bit me. I bought the bowl too. And, still, he bit me.
He is incapable of letting himself out to go for a walk. I have to take him. But he bit me.
The reality of this is simple. I have committed myself to caring for that little dog no matter what. I love him. A commissioned silhouette of him hangs on my office wall next to a clock made from his photo. Yes, I’m obsessed. I suppose that there is some number of bites that might get me to change my mind about that, but I know for certain we are nowhere near that number.
It reminds me about something my friend Glenn said to me. He’s a pastor. And, a pretty smart guy. And, a realist. He said that one of the certainties in ministry is that sheep will bite the shepherd. The shepherd, if he is truly a shepherd, gives his all for the sheep. He lives with them, feeds them, waters them, and protects them. And, instead of steadfast devotion to him, they repay him by biting him. They, like Spanky bite the hand that feeds them.
Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday on the Church calendar. My pastor gave a fantastic homily about the calling of a true shepherd. He spoke of the joy he felt in baptizing, in performing weddings and, yes, hearing confessions. Especially long overdue confessions. He said that the most joyous confessions he hears are the ones that begin, “Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s been 25 years since my last confession.” Reconciling after a 25 year absence! He loves being part of the lifting of the sin burden. He spoke of the honor of “doing what I was ordained to do,” celebrate Mass. He spoke of his sadder responsibilities, performing funerals and visiting the sick. But he never once complained about being bitten. He has been, of course. But the joys of his vocation outweigh the occasional nip.
If you’re in a calling that demands you give your all to others you might do well to remember that. Teachers – sheep bite the shepherd. Your students will act out. Parents – sheep bite the shepherd. Your children will call you mean. Pastors – sheep bite the shepherd. Despite all your care and counseling, your congregants will turn on you. But if you are true to your calling pastors, parents and teachers, it can’t be about how those you love and serve treat you. It’s about how you love and serve. You will continue to give your all and be repaid with bites. No matter how dearly you love them, sheep bite the shepherd. After all, Spanky bit me.