Sunday, May 12th is designated Good Shepherd Sunday, a day of prayer for vocations. We will certainly continue to pray for vocations to church ministries and for an increase in membership in religious communities. In addition to that prayer, our community weekly intention is an intercessory prayer for MOTHERS – including all who mother others… which in today’s society of broken families many daddies, too, serve in the role of both “mother” and “father” to their children.
The brief Gospel (just read) reveals Jesus as our unique “parent” – mother and father – our good shepherd. Jesus is our means to salvation – the “sheep gate,” the gateway, the threshold to eternal life. Jesus is the selfless, caring “shepherd” who provides protection and life itself. How consoling and reassuring his words: “No one can take you out of my hand. My Father, who has given you to me, is greater than all, and no one can take you out of my Father’s hand.”
A good shepherd’s life is not an easy one – the shepherd must be vigilant at all times, willing to keep the sheep close together (in community), lead them to green pastures and set a good pace sensitive to their endurance. Jesus explains the difference between the concerned shepherd and the hireling. The hireling is there only for the paycheck. When trouble comes, he runs away and leaves the sheep to be devoured by the wolves. The good shepherd, on the other hand, the shepherd who owns the sheep, has a vested interested in their welfare. Therefore, the good shepherd is willing to pay any price to protect the sheep, even if it means that he has to give His very life for them. Christ, the Chief Shepherd, knows our individual weaknesses and failings and watches over us with discerning love and sympathetic understanding. With infinite concern He notes the doubts, fears, trials, conflicts, and defeats that disturb our peace, and He swiftly comes to our aid.
You’ve probably seen the painting titled “His Master’s Voice.” It depicts a dog, looking with a cocked head, into an old gramophone. It’s an apt symbol of what Jesus is saying to us or Benedict’s call to heed the voice of the Master. Hear what Jesus says: “The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
The spiritual writer, Tony Campolo tells the story of a census taker who went to the home of a rather poor family in the mountains of West Virginia to gather information. He asked the mother how many dependents she had. She began, “Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey. There’s Johnny, and Harvey, and our dog, Willie.” The census taker interrupted her: “No, ma’am, that’s not necessary. I only need the humans.” “Ah,” she said. “Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey, Johnny, and Harvey, and….” At this the exasperated man interrupted, “No, ma’am, you don’t seem to understand. I don’t need their names I just need the numbers.” To which the old woman replied, “But I don’t know their numbers. I only know them by name.”
Sounds like Jesus in today’s Gospel – Jesus says the good shepherd knows his sheep by name. Although there may be several flocks sharing the same sheepfold, when the shepherds walk up to the gate and call their sheep, each one instantly recognizes the voice of its own shepherd or shepherdess. When they hear the familiar voice, they instinctively follow (they are led and they follow, they are not driven, that’s for goats). They will ignore the voice of a shepherd other than their own. We will hear many voices competing for our attention, but there is a special note to the voice of Jesus that demands our immediate and full attention.
To the untrained eye, the individual sheep in a flock may all look alike. A good shepherd, however, can tell them apart — often because of their defects and peculiar traits. A man who was tending a large flock explained it this way: “See that sheep over there? Notice how it toes in a little. The one behind it has a squint; the next one has a patch of wool off its back; ahead is one with a distinguishing black mark, while the one closest to us has a small piece torn out of its ear.” Jesus says: “I know my sheep and they know me.” (Reminds me of how we can detect who is coming down the hall by the sound of her footsteps.)
A man in Australia was arrested and charged with stealing a sheep. But he claimed emphatically that it was one of his own that had been missing for many days. When the case went to court, the judge was puzzled, not knowing how to decide the matter. At last, he asked that the sheep be brought into the courtroom. Then he ordered the plaintiff to step outside and call the animal. The sheep made no response except to raise its head and look frightened. The judge then instructed the defendant to go to the courtyard and call the sheep. When the accused man began to make his distinctive call, the sheep bounded toward the door. It was obvious that he recognized the familiar voice of his master. “His sheep knows him,” said the judge. “Case dismissed!”
There is no question that Jesus is our Good Shepherd. The only question that remains at this point is this: Do you know the Shepherd? Do you recognize His voice?