Written on: May 4, 2022
Written by: Nancy Kaczmarek, GNSH
Today we get the brief version of the Good Shepherd story—only three verses. “I know them, and they follow me,” says Jesus in the Gospel of John. He knows the sheep—he knows his own. We follow not because we know, but because we are known.
Jesus would have been well acquainted with the Old Testament allusions to shepherds and sheep. “We are his people, the sheep of his flock,” says Psalm 100. Ezekiel 34 describes the kings of Israel as bad shepherds: “Woe to you, shepherds of Israel, who only take care of yourselves!” Ezekiel then says God will be the shepherd, and a good one at that.
But then, Jesus adopts the shepherd metaphor for himself. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” The sheep are God’s; Jesus becomes the shepherd. Shepherding was often the job of the youngest son (remember the story of David), so here again Jesus is referring, obliquely, to God as Dad.
Pope Francis, in one of his addresses to priests, encourages them to “be shepherds with the smell of sheep.” (Have you ever smelled a sheep? It is really bad. No wonder someone would want to avoid it.) Getting close to the sheep, smelling of sheep, is how the shepherd teaches them to recognize his voice. This reminds us that, in the depths of our hearts, we can recognize the voice of Jesus, whom we have been so close to all our lives.
Singer-songwriter Steve Bell tells this story: Find his full reflection here
“Imagine yourself as one of the lambs, living with the flock in good green pasture land, with fresh clear water in the nearby stream. Life is good there, and the shepherd is your guarantee of safety.
Weeks pass, though, and you notice that the grass is drying, and the stream is becoming muddy and warm. The rains aren’t falling, and things aren’t quite as good. The grass is prickly in your mouth, and the water fails to quench your thirst. And one day, the shepherd gets up, takes staff in hand, and begins to move the flock. Up the hills, you all move, higher and higher toward a mountain pass. The climb is steep, and you begin to lose your enthusiasm for this life. A couple of times you lag behind the flock, and when you do the shepherd is there to push you on with his staff. When you are so tired and you don’t even know where you’re headed, that staff against your flank just hurts.
By the time you reach the pass, it has become dark. The fading sunlight is lost behind rock walls, and it is cold and miserable. Tired and despondent, you lie down, thinking it might be better to just stay there and die.
It is at this point that an old sheep comes over to talk to you. He has made this trek before. He knows that on the other side of the pass is another valley, and in that other valley the grass will be better and the spring-fed stream will be running. He has learned that this shepherd knows what he is doing, and that the prods and pushes of his staff are expressions of that knowing.
The old sheep speaks only two simple sentences. ‘I’ve done this before; keep moving.’ And then,‘Just stay close to the shepherd.”
As I write this, I think of the people of Ukraine, who were “living in good green pasture land, with fresh clear water” until they were invaded and scattered. I pray for their faith as well as their well-being. I pray that they have the shepherds they need, and that they shepherd one another.
Sometimes we are the old sheep, sometimes we need the old sheep.
Whichever stage we’re in, we find comfort in staying close to the shepherd.
For a printable copy, click here>> Reflection for 4th Sunday of Easter
Featured image courtesy of Patrick Schneider/Unsplash