Faith and Values
The 4th Sunday of Easter: Good Shepherd Sunday
A common image of Jesus is that of the Good Shepherd. For those of us who live in an urban environment it may never really have occurred to us what constitutes a good shepherd, or the relative merits of sheep. We may be a little prone to thinking about sheep as perhaps a little dumb and docile and the shepherd as the one who keeps them out of trouble. To some extent the view of the shepherd may not be far wrong. However, the stereotype does little for the image of sheep. Sheep are far cannier than people often give them credit for as today’s Gospel points out. We are told that they know their master’s voice. In Jesus’ day sheep were typically brought together in a sheepfold at night for safety. But it wasn’t just one shepherd’s flock. Instead, it was several. Each morning the shepherds would call their sheep. This suggests that the members of the flock, namely us, have the ability to recognise the Truth of Jesus’ call and his message.
Then what about the shepherd? Shepherds, then as now, had to be prepared for all eventualities, whether this had to do with the vagaries of the climate such as sudden storms or protection against wild animals, not to mention the tendency of sheep to get themselves into various sorts of scrapes. If you saw the news item the other morning about firefighters having to winch a sheep out of a deep crevice this will make sense. Taking care of a flock is quite a pro-active occupation which takes time, care, vigilance and the ability to think on one’s feet in all sorts of circumstances. Jesus, the good shepherd, is out amongst his sheep, watching out. In the words of Pope Francis, a shepherd needs to smell of the sheep. The image reminds us that Jesus meets us in the immediacy of the here and now, in all of the highs and lows of our existence, even when we get ourselves stuck in tight places and when we are under threat from the wolves. It also suggests that in the depths of our hearts we have the canniness to recognise his voice and to follow with assurance and trust that he will see us right.
The passages in the Gospels referring to Jesus as the Good Shepherd, also give a model for those who are leaders in the Church, particularly for those who are called to the priesthood. The present a dynamic model of engagement, of walking amongst the people of God.