4th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Being a former farmboy, I am not all that happy about being compared to a sheep. Sheep are dirty. Loud. Stupid. And they stink. When I was in seminary, our preaching and Scripture professors told us to think carefully before we called God's people “sheep.” Is that really the image you want to leave with your parishioners? That they are dirty, loud, stupid, and stinky? If you call yourself a shepherd, then you're the keeper of the sheep; the rustler of the sheep; you poke at them to make them go where you want, and when the time comes, you fleece them! So, maybe the whole sheep/shepherd image is a bit outdated. Unless, of course, you remember that back in Jesus' day sheep were a foundation stone of the economy. They provided just about everything needed to survive. They were cared for almost like a family's children and were protected from lions and wolves. That sheep/shepherd image has two sides. The side Jesus uses this evening is the side that places the sheep well within the family, well within the protection of the Father. He places us – his sheep – in familiar territory, in comfortable reach of food, water, and shelter. He places us – his flock – within reach of his Word.
Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” How do we explain that some who heard Jesus teach and preach turned away from him? That some openly opposed him? That others started to follow him but abandoned him along the Way? And still others stuck with him almost to the end? Those who have ears to hear will hear and those with eyes to see will see. Those who are most in need of mercy and desirous of it will hear and see the mercy Christ offers to them. The “poor” – those who live lives of spiritual poverty – see the riches Christ offers them. They recognize those riches as theirs, or they don't. They receive those riches, or they don't. IOW, we will choose to follow Christ, or we won't. There is no halfway. If we choose to follow, we follow. We follow behind, stepping where he steps and heading in the same direction at the same pace. If I am running head, or walking off in another direction, or skipping along toward a cliff – I am not following. I can say that I'm following Christ, but I can also say that I'm the 25yo multi-millionaire quarterback of the NOLA Saints. Don't make it so. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” If you follow Christ, he knows you. And if he knows you, then you have heard his voice.
To be a follower of the Good Shepherd means that you belong to a flock, a family of individuals who heard the voice of Christ and chose to follow him. We came into an existing family, a long-lived, long-suffering family that's been through every trial and tribulation the Enemy could invent. For over 2,000 years our flock has endured, persevered, rebuilt, struggled, and fought for the faith on just about every continent in every language known to man. And here we are doing it some more! We endure and persevere and rebuild and struggle and fight for the faith b/c we chose to follow the Good Shepherd. We rely on his protection, his strength, his love, his mercy. And we will always have all that we need to carry on. Some will hear and turn away. Others will hear, join us, and leave. Still others will recognize in the voice of Christ – that's me and you – the Father's offer of mercy and stay with us. If you'll forgive the image – they will add their stink to ours and become invaluable sheep. About us and for us, Jesus says, “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”
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