Gospel - John 10:27-30
The Lord is Our Shepherd, we are the sheep
The most popular and familiar Psalm of all is of course, ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’ (Psalm 22). In today’ Mass readings and prayers we learn about the Good Shepherd.
‘I know them’
A priest friend of mine who loves hill-walking related to me how he was spending a couple of nights in a farmhouse Bed and Breakfast in the Dingle Peninsula. Anyone familiar with the West knows that the hills, mountains and ditches are dotted with sheep. On the first morning my friend met the farmer who tended to the sheep who told him he was setting off to find three missing sheep. The following morning they met again and the farmer had been successful in finding the strays. My friend –reared in the city – asked, ‘How did you know they were missing? You have hundreds of sheep here.’ The farmer simply replied:’ I missed their faces’.
‘No one will ever steal them from me’; ‘I know them and the follow me’
When I was in the Holy Land in 1999, our Palestinian tour guide told us of a recent event relating to this Gospel. A Palestinian farmer woke up one morning to discover his flock of sheep were missing. He could only conclude that someone had stolen them. He went to the nearest town on market day and went to the pens where many sheep were up for sale, and he called out to them. As he stood calling, they made their way over to him and he led them away. Shepherds in Israel take the lead and the flock follow. They listen to their master’s voice.
‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice’
Anyone with a pet or anyone working with animals knows that they respond to familiar voices. We might not find it very flattering to be compared to sheep, as the Psalm reminds us [‘we are his people, the sheep of his flock’]but the analogy is a good one as we are called to respond to the Master’s voice and to listen out for Him. We heard the Father speak from heaven on the Sunday of the Transfiguration during Lent: ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.’ At Cana, Mary’s last recorded words are ‘Do whatever He tells you.’
We do so in responding to His Word in prayer and reflection on the Gospel, in faithful living according to the truths and doctrines of the Church, and in listening to Him in the cry of the poor. We ought also to listen out for Him in the advice of a good confessor or director, in the example of others, and in the voice of a well-ordered attuned conscience. We need to listen out above the cacophony of many other disruptive voices clamouring for our attention.
‘And they will never be lost’
Recently at First Confession, the children in the school where I am chaplain had a little drama based on the Lost Sheep. There was an interesting exchange towards the end of the drama where the ‘99’ sheep scold the lost sheep for going missing. The lost sheep snaps back ‘and how could you let me go off by myself and get lost? Why didn’t you go looking for me?’
We all have a role in assisting the Good Shepherd in looking out for the strays through our good example, through a gentle word of encouragement to prayer and Mass attendance or encouragement to confession, through assurance to people that we are praying for them, through works and organisations of evangelisation and outreach in our parishes. Today we pray for (grand)parents anxious for their straying (grand)children. We pray for vocations - that many will hear the Master’s voice and assist Him in shepherding the flock that is the People of God.
‘The Father and I are one’
At the Last Supper, Jesus said to Philip, ‘to have seen me is to have seen the Father’. The Opening Prayer and Gospel acclamation refer to the words of Jesus: ‘I am the Good Shepherd’, yet the concluding prayer of the Mass this Sunday addresses God the Father as the ‘eternal shepherd’.
‘Father, eternal shepherd, watch over the flock redeemed by Christ, and lead us to the Promised Land.’
It echoes the sentiments of the Opening Prayer: ‘Give us new strength from the courage of Christ our shepherd and lead us to join the saints in heaven.’
May He lead us ‘to pastures green and quiet waters by.’