There is a story about a man accused of stealing a sheep. He was brought to court and put on trial. He adamantly said that the sheep in his possession was his. His accuser adamantly replied that the sheep was hers. How could the judge find out the right answer? The judge ordered the bailiff to take both people outside. Then he ordered that the sheep in question be brought to the middle of the parking lot. He asked that both to call this sheep to see if the sheep responded. You can guess the results. The sheep came to the owner when the owner called. If the Shepherd calls her sheep, the sheep follow.
I want to review some facts about what a shepherd did in the time of Jesus so we can better understand what Jesus was saying. A shepherd would stay with the flock all of the time. This shepherd knew all of the sheep by name and would know where each of them was. If one would wander away or became in danger, the Shepherd would search out for the one sheep and make sure that it was protected. At night the Shepherd would bring all of her sheep to a pen, cave, or an area with stonework and gather them together. Either the Shepherd or another person such as an older person or responsible young adult would sleep at the gate of the pen or enclose to make sure the sheep did not leave or to make sure that an enemy either human or a wolf would not attack or capture the sheep. In the morning the Shepherd would be at the enclosure and to call the sheep. Only the Shepherd's sheep would come if others were gathered.
Our Gospel story about the Good Shepherd has been told again and again. I would like to talk about the phrase, Listening to the Shepherd and what it could mean to our lives.
For me and for many of us we often are so busy that we do not have time to meditate, contemplate or let alone listen to God speaking in our lives. We go about our busy day with worry about the tasks that need to be done, with errands that have to be finished, and with the immediate concerns foremost in our mind.
I believe that we must listen attentively to the Shepherd to see what the Shepherd wants us to do.
Our world is filled with so much noise: the TV, the phone, the computer, the car radio, plus many more that we do not allow us the time to be quiet. How can we listen if the noise around us assaults our thoughts and does not allow the voice of God to direct and guide us? If we really want to begin listening to the Shepherd then we have to find time and make time to be quiet. All of us have a place or several places that we can find in our world that would allow our brain and our soul the quiet time to listen to God speak. The place is not the important part of listening. It is the intention that we have to want to be quiet that is important. All we can do is to ask the Shepherd to speak to us and wait for the answers that will be forthcoming.
It is sometimes hard to believe that the Shepherd will call us and be with us. As the Gospel said today, "I am the Good Shepherd and a good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep". We are worthy of the care of God. The Shepherd (Jesus) laid down his life for us and rose again on the third day. We are worthy of this great love of God because Jesus said so. There are no maybe's it is a fact that we are redeemed. If we only realized a small portion of the love Jesus had for us we would be joy filled every day. This love of God circles us, embraces us, fills us and makes us whole.
It often helps to recite a short scripture verse that we have memorized to help us remember the great love the Shepherd has for us. These brief scripture verses can help us when we falter or cannot remember God's love. These are scripture verses about the Shepherd. However you can use your favorites.
"The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me
repose. Besides restful waters he leads me, he refreshes my soul". Psalm 23
"But the people he led forth as sheep and guided them like a herd in the
desert. God led them secure and unafraid." Psalm 78
"I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest". Ezekiel 34:15
It is often difficult to hear the Shepherd's voice when the wolves attack us. Fear, worry, envy and low self esteem are some of the wolves' names. When we become frozen in time and only hear the growling around us it is difficult to hear the Shepherd's voice. It is also difficult to hear other people with differing views who speak loudly and express opinions that are not ours. In today's Gospel reading Jesus says that, "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one Shepherd". These differing sheep may growl and we may be fearful but it is the Shepherd who will lead all of us into the one fold. I was hearing growling last night when I read email accounts of some of my women friends who are priest. They were securely escorted out of a Vatican mass because they wore their Roman collars. The growing continued inside of me until I prayed that barriers erected in the church and in society may be smashed and ended. It is the Good Shepherd who is the leader of all of us. May we befriend the wolves inside ourselves and the wolves that have different points of view because we all are one in Christ Jesus.
Listen to the Shepherd and we will know what to do.
Listen to the Shepherd and the growling inside of us will grow quiet.