Now that we have the opportunity to gather outdoors once more and go walking in the countryside with friends, one of the delightful sights to greet us at this time of year is lambs gambolling in the fields while their mother ewes keep close by. However, I suspect that many of you, like me, cannot tell one breed of sheep from another. We’d have difficulty in knowing if we were looking at a Border Leicester, a Cheviot, Swaledale or any other breeds of sheep native to Britain. For most of us, most if not all sheep look alike.
To the farmer or shepherd, however, who knows his flock, no two sheep are alike. He knows them and they know him, so much so that when he calls them they recognise and respond to him. They learn to trust him and follow his voice.
Several times in the Gospels Jesus uses the image of a shepherd to portray the care he has for his ‘flock’ of disciples. He cares for them, he says, as a dedicated shepherd cares for his sheep. While sheep may all look the same to us, we are not all the same to him. He is a ‘good’ shepherd, he says, unlike the ‘bad’ leaders or shepherds of Judaism who have failed the people in their care. He knows each one of us personally. ‘I know my own and my own know me.’ …
So to Christ I am not just a name or a number in a vast worldwide flock: I am unique, intimately known and special to him, having been handed over to his care by God the Father. His mission is to care for God’s ‘sheep’.
To enjoy his care Jesus needs us to ‘listen’ to his ‘voice’ i.e. put into practice what he teaches. If we do, placing our faith in him, he promises to not lead us astray or to allow anyone or anything to take us away from him. He will give us what he calls ‘eternal life’ – the fullest form of life here on earth not available from any other person or source.
To ‘listen’ to the ‘voice’ of Jesus in our time can be quite a struggle when there are so many other competing voices claiming our attention. They offer enticements and promise all sorts of earthly rewards but none offer ‘eternal life’. In many, if not most, cases they just want our money.
To whom, then, can we truly offer our loyalty and obedience in the knowledge that we will not be ripped off or have our trust shattered? In recent years all national institutions, which have played a pivotal role in society and in our lives, have proved flawed and even guilty of abusing their power over us. In today’s Gospel Our Lord invites us to place our trust in him and to follow where his voice leads. He will not fail or betray us. He is the shepherd who is so devoted to us that he actually laid down his life for our protection so that we might have the fullness – the truly best – of life.
Holy Name, Jesmond
25 April 2021