Gospel: John Ch. 10, 11-18.
The people of Israel were a people of Shepherds: Abel, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, to mention a few. Their function was to feed and water the sheep, protect them, find them when they strayed, cure them, and guard them at night in the pens. This image helps us to understand the title of Jesus as The Good Shepherd.
Often shepherds abandoned their sheep and the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, condemned this reality. Later the idea of God as a shepherd was developed, God as the shepherd of Israel: Psalm 80, “Shepherd of Israel hear us”, and after the exile the idea grew that the future Messiah would be a shepherd who would save the lost sheep, the people, and so Jesus emerges as Shepherd of the people of God, one who would save his people.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who calls his sheep out and walks in front of them and the sheep follow him because they recognise his voice. In Portugal and in Spain, I have seen the shepherds leading the flocks of sheep. The shepherd goes first and all the sheep follow him. In many European countries the shepherds spend from early Spring to the beginning of winter on the mountains with their flocks. Then they come with the sheep to the nearest towns where they are not always welcomed as they are men unused to living in society. They are often unwashed, unmannerly, and dreaded.
In the New Testament the name ´shepherd´is never applied to the apostles or disciples. Jesus tells Peter to “take care of His sheep” and Peter in his first letter tells the presbyters to feed, to lead and to teach the flock of God. And so for any Christian who wishes to give witness as a follower of the Good Shepherd and to actualize today His teachings, the following criteria are helpful:
to learn to recognise the voice of the Good Shepherd but also of the ´sheep´. This demands time to pray, to listen to the imploring voice of the people of our world and to know how to keep silent our own thoughts and ideas;
to call each one by their name, a true pastoral contact, a personal contact, to truly know signifies to enter into intimacy, to create ties; to risk to go out to the periphery and to search for those who are not of our ´fold´, because we trust in the Shepherd who opens the door for us on mission; and not to stay in our own security and in the limits of our sheep-pen, namely the Church, the sacristy:
to know how to walk with, and to make the pilgrimage of life with others and to transmit security and confidence by our witness, to let Jesus walk in front while we are invited to follow and feel the “smell of the sheep”;
to give and receive with gratitude of whoever gives and of whoever receives.
In the Gospel for today, Jesus also speaks of how he will give his life for his sheep. . The mission and death of Jesus which was the divine commandment or will of the Father reflects the bond of love that exists between the Father and the Son. By his death on the Cross, Jesus, the true Paschal Lamb, offers himself to the Father, through the Holy Spirit. Thus the entire Trinity participates in this sacrifice.
Those who follow the Son must also accept the divine will and let the love that it reflects be seen in their lives and to give our lives to others in love and service.
The Lord is my Shepherd
He guides me along the right path
Near restful waters he leads me.
Many of us Sisters have been moved, by assignation, from one place to another and from one culture and language to another even after more than half a century in that place, which is my experience. We find it difficult to adjust and question the meaning of it. I found a wonderful strength and courage when I reflected on the Good Shepherd. He is the One who leads his flock to “fresh pastures” which he knows are best for his sheep. ´He guides us along the right path´. The good Shepherd knows his sheep intimately. Jesus knows that the new place to where we have been sent is the best “pasture” for us. And it is for us to follow him, to recognise his voice
May the Good Shepherd inspire the Church today to be a Pastoral Church, and that all Christians may live the compassion and mercy of the Good Shepherd, and open the door to all those who wish to enter in.
Sr. Aedris Coates OP