22 April 2018 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
Gospel: John 10:11-18
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
In a country where even small children are familiar with sheep it should be easy to relate to Jesus’ words about the shepherd and his sheep. Sheep in our part of the world are well looked after but most don’t experience the personal care of a shepherd who calls them by name. They are anonymous members of a large flock, although each one matters to the farmer.
Most of us is have elements of both sheep and shepherd in our lives. When we have the care of others, especially vulnerable people like children and the elderly, the shepherd dimension of our lives is very evident.
Our shepherd instincts may not be so obvious – we may be the kind of person who watches out for neighbours, knows when someone hasn’t appeared for a few days, rings people to make sure they are ok, tackles neighbourhood or school bullies – doing this kind of thing is shepherding.
Most of us would not want to think about having a sheep aspect to our lives. Shepherds are strong and looked up to – but sheep?
We can often understand the shepherding we do – and how to improve it – by having a part of our lives where we are in the sheep role.
Sometimes we need to let go of the desire to be out the front, the one doing everything and being all things to all people, and relax into being cared for and led ourselves. If we have shepherd or leadership roles in our lives then it is good to also have an aspect of our lives where we are one of the crowd, not obliged to be out front, able to appreciate the relationship with the shepherd and the company of the other sheep-people in that particular paddock.
We can model ourselves on Jesus in the shepherding aspects of our lives, and grow in the work and mission we carry out for him. We need also to reflect upon ourselves as sheep for whom Jesus is the shepherd, and to allow the experience of being cared for or led by others to help shape our understanding of that relationship. It is this reflection that will deepen our peace and joy as we come to understand just how much Jesus the shepherd cares for us for each of us individually.