Psalm 87:1-3, 4-5, 6-7
I find John’s gospel provocative on several levels. It is part of the familiar story of the “good shepherd” and the sheep. There is a distinction made between the sheep who know, recognize, trust, and follow the shepherd and those who don’t. As an allegory, we recognize the “good shepherd” as Jesus and we are the sheep. The theme is one of credibility and trust, recognition and intimate relationship. The ebb and flow in the writing is reflected in the tension implicit in the theme. Today, in the 21st century how are we to recognize the good shepherd? How are we called to be good shepherds?
On first reading the passage, the serene holy card image of the gentle, meek Jesus surrounded by white fluffy lambs came to mind. This did not last long. Although my knowledge of sheep and shepherds is limited, I do have a little first hand experience. Having lived in a rural German village for several years, I have had occasion to ponder the life of the shepherd. The shepherd I experienced was a quiet lonely sort of a fellow, but faithful to his flock. He was there with them no matter the weather; dressed most often in a heavy woolen cape with a wide brimmed hat to ward off the sun, sleet, snow or rain. His hands and fingernails were dirt stained from the daily chore of search and rescue. When not walking the fields in search of lambs and sheep or warding off predators, he sat alone with only his dog for company.
The sheep on the other hand were not white fluffy comforting faithful animals. They tended to be fearful, skittish and easily spooked. They huddled among themselves for warmth, comfort and safety. They did not respond to the call of the shepherd. The trained sheep dog was responsible for herding the sheep. And, the sheep did not lie at the shepherd’s feet.
In using this allegory of the sheep and shepherd, John is saying
so much more than is readily apparent. This shepherd and these sheep
that follow the shepherd are awesome! These sheep in no way act like
sheep. What has happened to convert this flock of fearful, skittish,
easily spooked humans to loving, trusting, faithful followers? The
answer is in the relationship: the intimate, personal relationship
of Jesus, with each one of us, mirrored in the multitude of relationships
As we move with the Church through the Easter season, we may ask ourselves:
How is Jesus loving me intimately and uniquely, moving me from fear into trust?
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