The SIGNS OF A GOOD SHEPHERD
I am the good shepherd. I know mine and mine know me (Gospel)
In our recent trip to the Holy Land, one of the scenes that touched my heart most although it was but for a passing moment now and then, was the sight of sheep gathered with a shepherd grazing on the land where Jesus walked. It struck me in a special way because the vision is one that always touched my heart as we read the scriptures of this day.
We have heard of the Good Shepherd so often that we might have lost the meaning of this title. At the time of Jesus raising sheep was a big business. It was a central part of the economic life in the Middle East. Sheep were used for food, clothing and religious sacrifice. The number of sheep he had would easily measure the person’s wealth. Herds of sheep could be immense and could number up to thousands. Clearly, a good shepherd was highly valued because he could break the owner of the flock.
The shepherd did more than sit in the meadow on a lazy afternoon surrounded by the grazing sheep as we might imagine. He had to be with the sheep in all kinds of weather and be attentive to the welfare of the sheep against storms and predators. He had to be aware of rustlers and potential disease. He had to know the sheep well, which one needed gentle prodding and which needed more forceful prompting. Shepherding was a dangerous and rugged business that required intelligence and wisdom. Good shepherds were hard to find.
Today, Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd. First, a good shepherd cares so much for the flock that he is willing to risk his life to protect them. Secondly, he knows each of his sheep well, “by name”. Thirdly, he cares about all of them, even those who go astray. We can apply all of these to the Lord.
A good shepherd is willing to give even his life for the sheep. We all have had experiences of being disappointed by leaders and heroes in our lives. Sooner or later something is revealed that shows a person we admired not to be all that we expected them to be. Jesus is everything He claimed to be. He showed his love by giving up His life for us. Each Sunday when we hear the words “This is my Body…This is my Blood”, we are reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that no one takes His life from Him. He Himself gave it up voluntarily and willingly for us. His death is not something that happened to him, it is something He did for us. Other leaders in our lives may disappoint, Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who gave His life for us. Our question in this: are we following others or are we following the Lord. Then let us remain steadfast in our commitment to him as he remained steadfast in His commitment to us. What are we willing to give up for the good of the sheep?
Secondly, a good shepherd knows his sheep. To a stranger, they all look alike. A good shepherd knows the temperament of each. So often we wear a mask in front of others. It might be the mask of self-assurance, piety, competence or certainty. Usually there is a gap between what people see and what is the case within. Jesus knows our inner person. That is the person He loves and for whom He died. That is the person He wants to fill with His grace. He is the Good Shepherd Who knows his sheep. We too need to extend the spirit of the Good Shepherd by accepting all that each is as we serve one another in His name, unconditionally and with a love that seeks the security of each other.
Finally, a good shepherd gathers his scattered flock. A sheep that is missing is never far from his mind, like a child that has abandoned his home or a fellow parishioner who has chosen to remain distant is close to the heart of those who are called to shepherd them. If we drift away from the flock, the Lord sends instruments of His grace to bring us back if we are willing to come. To those who have never belonged, the Lord brings a light into their lives to guide them to His flock. Every hour, every day in every part of the world the Lord is sending His grace to bring back the lost and to widen the embrace of His flock.
Every time we make an effort to reach out, to include, to welcome and to call one another, we are allowing the work of the Shepherd to continue among us.
Jesus is indeed the Good Shepherd who never leaves his flock. Where the flock is, there is the Shepherd. In all the disturbances of life that would tend to disperse us or threaten us, we must remember that the Shepherd is with us and will take care of our needs. If we remain with the flock, the Shepherd will embrace us. The Lord and His Church are one for good!
Let us remain one as a flock of God’s love and let us help to bring the Shepherding love Jesus to one another in care and love. The Lord is our Shepherd, nothing more shall we want. What a great lesson for us as we accept our new Easter call to go and proclaim the Good News! Shepherd us, O Lord, and let none obstruct the work of your hands.