I've been thinking of the phrase, "wolves in sheep's clothing," as it applies to life in the Church. Now I seem to remember having seen this phrase used to describe church leaders who were preaching a false gospel. But that's not at all what I'm thinking of in this case. After all, the usual metaphor in scripture for church people as sheep views the people of a congregation as the flock as sheep, and the pastor as a shepherd. Or all Christians as sheep, and Christ as the shepherd. No, the reason the phrase popped into my head was that I have encountered some folks in the Church who seem like nice people until you get them started on the subject of sin...or rather, on the subject of what they consider to be sin. At that point, they go from becoming contented sheep in the flock to ravening wolves, ready to tear anything in their path. "Haven't you read the Bible?!?" they shout. "God calls <fill in the blank> an ABOMINATION!" Let the pastor preach a sermon about how God is love, and that we need to love one another as Christ loved us, and they nod. But if the pastor gets specific about a particular behavior that these wolves think is categorically sinful, they abandon their Christian love, and replace it with righteous indignation, or anger.
What about the woman caught in adultery in John 8? Doesn't Jesus tell her to "sin no more"? Yes, after all of her accusers have left her alone, because Jesus has shined the bright light of their righteous indignation in their faces...and after he's told her, "I don't condemn you either." What? He didn't condemn her? Maybe the wolves skipped that part of the story.
What about Paul, though? In the opening of his letter to the Romans, doesn't Paul list a whole bunch of acts that people commit, that God definitely views as unrighteous, sinful? Yes, he does. But keep reading: in the second chapter, just as Jesus had done with the adulterous woman's accusers, he turns that reasoning back on his "righteous" readers. "Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." (Romans 2:1) In other words, just as Paul's readers begin feeling pretty good about how much better they are, he says, "Hold on! What's your excuse?"
Here's my point: "all we, like sheep, have gone astray," as the chorus of Handel's Messiah sings so bouncily. (He gets the text from Isaiah 53:6.) We are all sheep, and like sheep, being the kind of animals they are, we stray from the path, we go wandering after a particularly tasty looking patch of grass. But the moment we start trying to complain about another sheep's predilection for wandering from the same path, we cease being sheep, and become wolves in sheep's clothing. We begin to relish the taste of blood (metaphorically speaking, mind you). We tear, we attack, we wound, we kill.
Don't be a wolf. Be a sheep. The Shepherd will do the work of correcting your fellow sheep. And he'll take care of the wolves.
(adj.) wild and frenzied; from Greek κορυβαντες (Korybantes)