FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (B)
"I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."
A few years back I discovered the paintings of nineteenth century English artist, Richard Ansdell. Ansdell is known by many sportsmen and naturalists for his paintings of wildlife and sporting activities (hunting, fishing) from England in the mid-1800s. That's not how I found him, however. Though English, Ansdell spent his summers near Loch Laggan around Invernesshire in Scotland. Many of his paintings feature the kilted native men of that land. That's how I came to know his work, looking for depictions of nineteenth century Scottish clothing.
Well, if any of you have ever had the privilege of visiting Scotland, you'll have noticed that once you get outside of the urban centers of Glasgow and Edinburgh, the population gets pretty thin and you see more sheep than people. Sheep are all over the place; on the hillsides, in the middle of the roadways, in people's front yards. And so many of Ansdell's paintings of Highland men show them working with sheep. I have a print hanging in my living room of one of his works called "Sheep Washing in Glen Lyon" which shows a kilted man knee deep in a creek, wrestling with a large ram trying to give him a bath.
In today's gospel reading, Jesus refers to himself as "the good shepherd." Ansdell in fact painted a work called "The Good Shepherd," which shows a Highland shepherd lad carrying a baby lamb, a sheep (the mother?) on one side, and his faithful collie on the other. It's a nice painting, but there is another pastoral painting of Ansdell's which I think illustrates the message of this gospel even better. It's called "The Stray Lamb" and it shows a Highland shepherd up on side of this jagged, rocky outcropping. He's carrying a lamb under one arm, and clinging to the rocks with the other. The rest of his flock is down beneath him, and even his faithful collie is only about half way up the rock face. This shepherd has climbed up to this dangerous position (in a kilt, no less!) to rescue this single lamb which had managed to lose its way, separate itself from the rest of the flock, and wander away from the watchful protection of the shepherd.
Don't we all do that at times? Many times in the Gospels, Jesus refers to us as sheep, and Himself as the shepherd. We are the flock which He tends. And like the lost lamb in Richard Ansdell's painting, sometimes we loose our way. Maybe we get distracted by a passing curiosity, stray from the fold, and the next thing you know we are caught up on some cliff face which we never intended to end up on. Perhaps, as in today's Gospel, we are frightened by some wolf that has made its way into the flock, scattering us in different directions. It matters not. We have a good shepherd.
We have one who will stop at nothing to find us and bring us back home, safe, reunited with the flock. "A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep," Jesus says. A hired man who watches the sheep does not. He sees danger and runs away. This is because the sheep are not his own, Jesus explains. He only works for pay. But not Jesus. We belong to Him. "I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep."
We belong to Christ. My children have a game they like to play with their youngest sibling, who will turn two next week. If I am holding her, one of them will run up to hug me and say, "This is my daddy," and she will then push them away so that she can hug me and say, "No, my daddy!" I have to say, it's nice to be fought over. :-) But the children know I belong to all of them. And they belong to me. This is love. There is great comfort in knowing that no matter what happens in their lives, they will always be mine.
"Beloved, we are God's children now." So says St. John in the second reading today. The message here is the same as in the gospel. We belong to Christ. We are His, not in a sense of ownership, but in a sense of love. Our baptism leaves an indelible mark on our souls, it marks us as a child of God, branding us as one of Christ's flock. No matter how far astray we may wander, how lost and wounded we may become, we will still belong to Christ. He will find us. Even if we reject Him in our anger and stubbornness, He will not reject us. He will find us. He will bring us home.
WCU Catholic Campus Ministry
Matthew Newsome, MTh, campus minister
(828)293-9374 | POB 2766, Cullowhee NC 28723