Today’s gospel on the theme of the Good Shepherd is a familiar one to us all as are the words “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” I’ve been told that sheep prefer to be led. You lead sheep and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first. They become attached to and trusting of their shepherds. The sheep know the distinctive sounds and calls the shepherd makes; the shepherd learns to understand all the sheep’s moves. The lesson from the gospel is that we are the sheep of God’s flock; there is a possibility that we have a Shepherd who cares for us, whom we can trust, who calls us each by name and is at work shaping and guiding our lives.
Are we the sheep of His flock? Probably some of us rule ourselves out of the flock because we assume that must mean we are somehow in constant touch with God. In order to remain in the flock do we have to understand and believe every word in the Creeds and live saintly lives? I think, from what I’ve garnered over the years, that all it takes is to be willing to be with the flock and to listen to the voice of this Shepherd. A “flock member” can be that someone who encourages another when he/she is tempted to give it all up, to forget it all, to just walk away in despair. That someone who discourages another when he/she moves too rashly in unclear directions. That someone who knows when to help and when to just be ‘available’ if help is needed. As flock members we can listen to the voice from the heart calling, encouraging, challenging, and guiding.
I remember one special nun from my Catholic elementary school years, who called us ” her little lambkins”. I was very young but I knew she wanted to keep us safe while we were learning our ABCs, and she cared for us while in her care. She mirrored, by her example, the “teachings” of the Good Shepherd. Like a shepherd who cares for his sheep, God cares for each of us. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, and each of us is necessary.
The image of shepherds is that they are kind, loving, patient, strong and self-sacrificing. They are a good image of Jesus. And sheep, which can at times be rather stupid and foolish, can be a symbol for us at times. Jesus does not scold those who wander off or lose their way, but is always ready to bring us back and resolve differences and disagreements.
The flock that Jesus is the Good Shepherd of is bigger, more diverse, more abundant than we can imagine. It’s as big as love. May we live within that flock and be guided and shaped by the Shepherd, with joy, with courage, and with hope.