In the Name...
A priest was once teaching a Sunday School class and asked them, “If you are the sheep and Jesus is the Good Shepherd, then who am I?” There was a pause and one little boy put up his hand and said, “The good sheep dog?” Woof.
The Fourth Sunday of the Easter Season is traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday from the Gospel readings in which Jesus describes himself as a shepherd. And certainly, while Jesus identified himself by many titles - the resurrection and the life, the light of the world, the way, truth and life, and so forth - it is this one of the shepherd which is, perhaps, the one with the most practical application for us.
I know a priest who once used his Sunday School to dramatize this teaching. First, he had all the smallest children come up front, and in his parish that's about 20 kids. He asked them to put their heads down and say, The Lord is my shepherd, baa, baa, baa. The Lord is my shepherd, baa, baa, baa. The kids loved this, of course, and made a lot of noise. Once he had quieted them down he picked one kid and said; now Johnny here is the Lord and I want you to follow him. So, he had all the kids put their heads down and start saying, The Lord is my shepherd, baa, baa, baa and then had little Johnny lead them off down the aisle
But, after they got started, he motioned for Johnny to change direction and go another way. Kids who weren't paying attention just kept going ahead while other kids saw him and started following him, so, there were two groups going in opposite directions bleating, The Lord's my shepherd, baa, baa, baa. And all the adults had a good laugh.
Now, just hold that scene in your mind. We'll come back to it in a minute.
In 1899, an artist named Francis Barraud invented what has become one of the world's most enduring advertising logos. It is the figure of a dog sitting in front of a Victrola record player, staring in wonder at the speaker horn. The caption says it all, “He hears his master’s voice.”
In producing this image, Barraud relied on the fact that whenever an owner calls a dog, the animal will wag its tail and jump eagerly anticipating being petted or scratched or fed or taken outside - some expression of the loving relationship they have.
In a similar way, when Jesus spoke of himself as a shepherd, he was trying to explain to his disciples his loving relationship with them and characterize who and what he was for their lives.
In Jesus' time, tending sheep was a familiar activity. The shepherd led the flock to good pasture, protected them, looked after the strays, served as midwife for the birthing of lambs, and in a hundred other ways so identified with them that his life and theirs was as one. “My sheep hear my voice", Jesus said, "and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”
With these words, Jesus shows he cares for us as completely as any shepherd of his day. He leads us to all that sustains life at its deepest level. His example calls us back when we stray from his ways like lost sheep. His love protects us and heals us. He serves as a midwife for our new spiritual births. And in a hundred other ways he so identifies with us that his life and ours are as one - that we may dwell in him and he in us.
One of the great dangers for us is in not recognizing this work of Jesus in our lives, because we can’t separate his voice from the many others clamouring for our attention in this complex twenty-first century world. Indeed, it is a world so full of distractions that everywhere we go, there are voices calling out that say “buy this” or “do this” or “say this” or “act this way." Voices competing with one another, and all seeking to gain control of our lives in ways both great and small.
If we get distracted and lose sight of Jesus, we end up like the Sunday School kids who ended up all going different directions, but, still bleating, The Lord's my shepherd, baa, baa, baa, making so much noise that they couldn't figure out where the shepherd really was.
So, how and where do we hear his voice? We hear his voice in worship, in the reading of scripture, and in our own private prayer time. We hear his voice in the example of saintly Christians and in the cry of the poor, sick, and needy of our world. And, we hear his voice in the life of the Church with its two thousand years of experience.
But, we have to keep our ears tuned, tuned to the voice of Jesus in the midst of the million other voices of the world. There's no other way for us to enjoy his protection, be fed in good pasture, or be nurtured in his love.
After all, with the encouraging and reassuring voice of Jesus in our ears, our hearts and minds, it becomes easier to love our enemies; easier to reach out to others; easier to bear witness to a way of life that is superior to anything this world can offer; easier to follow Jesus at work, home, school, and at leisure. Indeed, if we can see ourselves as sheep of a God-led flock, we can better understand our relationship to him and his to us.
The presence of the Jesus whose lordship we proclaim is constantly with us. The challenge for each of us is to put forth the time and effort to learn his intonations and inflexions, even his breathing.
So, as today we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, we need to ask ourselves, am I a good sheep of the Good Shepherd? Am I a good sheep of the Good Shepherd? Do I hear his voice and follow where he leads?
The Lord, after all, is our shepherd. No baas about it.
In the Name...