FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (B)
Many of my students know that I keep a small flock of Soay sheep; a rare breed of primitive domestic sheep from the St. Kilda islands in the north Atlantic. Yesterday I was celebrating the end of the semester with a cook out for my students at my home. They always enjoy being able to spend time with my family and see the livestock on my little smallholding. One student asked me yesterday if being a shepherd made me feel like Jesus. The answer is usually not, because I am certain my little flock is much easier to care for than the people of God! But keeping sheep does give me an appreciation of the meaning behind Jesus' words when He calls Himself the good shepherd, and us His sheep.
Early during our gathering yesterday, while I was cooking at the grill, I saw a group of students hanging out by the pasture gate, admiring the animals. All the sheep were in the far corner of the pasture, eyeing the strange crowd suspiciously. Later in the afternoon I walked out to the pasture with just one student who wanted to see the new lambs. This time, instead of keeping their distance, the sheep all lined up and walked toward me. Why the different reaction? The answer is simple. My sheep know me. They know I am the one who cares for them. In other words, they trust me. And because of that, they follow me.
Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me." As members of His flock, we are to trust and follow our shepherd. People often are described as sheep in a negative way; as dumb animals who are easily led and will follow the crowd. It is true that sheep prefer to stay in a herd, an individual generally following the group. But in terms of following a shepherd, sheep will only follow one that they trust. Do you trust Jesus enough to follow Him? Or are you following some other shepherd?
Jesus also speaks of wolves coming in and scattering the sheep. There are many other voices out there calling for our attention besides that of Christ the Good Shepherd. There are plenty of false gods left to worship. We worship power. We worship money. We worship sex. We worship pleasure. We worship comfort. Most of all, we worship ourselves. Any of these things can easily draw us away from God if we allow them to. One definition of idolatry is valuing a created thing above the Creator. This is what is sinful about allowing anything -- even a good thing -- to have a place in our lives higher than God. It is disordered to love a lesser good above the highest good.
The truth is, as St. Peter reminds us in today's first reading (Acts 4:8-12), "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved." Other things in this world may offer us power or pleasure or fame or comfort or wealth or any number of other good things. But only Jesus can offer us life. Only Jesus can offer us forgiveness and mercy. Only Jesus can lead us to perfection and holiness. "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 Jn 3:2).
So do not run after these other gods. Do not follow these other shepherds. There is but one Good Shepherd who has true love and concern for His flock. He will lead us to where we need to go. We simply need to learn to recognize His voice and then trust Him enough to follow Him. We can hear our Shepherd's voice through the Church, as Christ has given us shepherds in His name, as He told Peter after the Resurrection, "Feed my sheep" (Jn 21:17). We can hear our Shepherd's voice in the scriptures. We can hear His voice through our prayer. Once we come to know and love Christ, we will follow when we hear His voice -- not cautiously or hesitantly, but with trust and love.
Christ is the Good Shepherd. He knows us, His sheep. May we always strive to know Him, our shepherd, and never hesitate to trust in His loving care for us.