Easter 4 C - Homilies and Stories

Background:

John’s Gospel has a heavy overlay of mystical imagery. Yet today’s brief gospel seems clear and simple enough. However, it’s revelation of the great tenderness of Jesus – undoubtedly based on clear historical memories in the tradition – is richly mystical. All will know that we are followers of Jesus by the love we have for one another. This is not a prediction which has yet been fulfilled.

Story:
 
Once upon a time there was a sergeant in the marines who was the senior enlisted man in his platoon. One day his outfit was ambushed and pinned down by enemy fire. The lieutenant in command was badly wounded as were many of the men. The sergeant took over and extricated the men from the trap, though he himself was wounded twice. He went back by himself to carry out the wounded commanding officer.  

Miraculously every man in the platoon survived, even the wounded lieutenant. Later the men said that if it were not for the incredible bravery of the sergeant they all would have been killed. He was always like a mother and a father to us, they said. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor, but did not receive it. However, he did receive the DFC. He never wore the medal because he said the lives of his men were more important than any medal. Later when he had children of his own, he loved them like a mother as well as a father. His wife said that during the war he had learned how to be tender. Of course people spit on him when he came home and told him that it served him right that he had to limp all his life.

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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration

One of the images applied to God in the Old Testament is that he is the shepherd of his people: The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want. And, he will send a new shepherd to Israel who will gather all those who have been scattered — which is seen as a result of sin — into one flock. We Christians believe that Christ is our shepherd, leading us to the fullness of life. We may find this language of ‘sheep’ and ‘shepherds’ strange, but beneath the imagery is our belief that God is gentle, caring and just. 

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Michel de Verteuil
General Comments
 

On the fourth Sunday of Easter the gospel reading is always taken from chapter 10 of St John’s gospel – the chapter in which is developed the theme of the Good Shepherd. A different extract from this chapter is read each year of the three-year cycle; we read the shortest one of the three in Year C.

The Good Shepherd passages tell us about Jesus, but also about all who have been given authority over others – parents, teachers, community leaders or spiritual guides. As we meditate on these passages, we therefore think with gratitude of good shepherd we have known. Your meditation could also be an examination of conscience on how you exercise authority.

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Text Comments 

The passage develops three themes:
• in verse 27 the sheep obey not because of any external compulsion, but because they experience that they belong to the shepherd and are known by him;
• in verse 28 the shepherd is perfectly secure in the loyalty of the sheep. Good shepherds don’t have to wonder, “Am I loved?” or “Are the sheep loyal to me?” they can therefore set about the work of leadership in freedom. Secure in their role, they can be creative, try new things, pose new challenges.
• In verses 29 and 30 we see that the security of good shepherds is rooted in their union with God.

It is traditional on this Sunday to remember ministers in the Church, so you might orient your meditation specially in that direction. Make sure you include in  your meditation the whole range of “ministers” in a modern church community – parish council members, lectors, ministers of the Eucharist, spiritual guides, choir leaders, finance committee members, directors of organizations such as St Vincent de Paul, prayer groups, etc. 

As it stands, this reading lacks context and it is difficult to make sense of it — the only rationale for its selection here seems to be that it invokes the image of the shepherd again (first found in John at 10:2) and the earlier parts of ch. 10 which use the image had already been selected for Years A and B. So, having opted for the theme of Good Shepherd Sunday, this was the only gospel text that was available! The reading makes sense if set in its full Joharinine scene which begins at 10:22 and ends at 10:39. The scene is a festival in Jerusalem and Jesus is being challenged by the Jews to keep them in suspense no longer: is he the Messiah or not? (v. 24). Jesus will only tell them that his works in the Father’s name testify to him. His own know him and follow him, and so these are brought into the domain of the Father. He and the Father are one, but as Jn 17:1 makes clear, this union includes the community of the disciples. This answer by Jesus causes consternation, and they attempt to stone him, a further statement on his works and about his relationship to the Father, and the gospel moves ever closer to the showdown of his arrest and crucifixion.

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Homily Notes

1. Preaching today is difficult. For a start this is often referred to as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ and attempts to attract people to the priesthood and religious life – yet, while there is sheep
imagery in the gospel, it is not the familiar image of ‘the good shepherd’. Second, using the homily as a place for advertis­ing the ordained priesthood may be counter-productive! Clergy today may be more of an object lesson in what to avoid, than an attractive example. If you do pick up this theme, bear the following in mind.

(1) Be careful not to ig­nore the fact that every Christian is called to some specific ministry in the church – high visibility ministries are but one variant on the general call to serve the Body of Christ.

(2) The ministry of Eucharistic presidency must be presented as something that exists within the whole body of the church and not as a ‘class apart’, which is the device used in recruit­ment of ‘specialists’ in the employment market.

(3) Harping on about falling numbers is a waste of time: people can both count and observe the age profile of clergy. Time should be devoted to giving a deeper understanding of what ministry is all about.

(4) We do not preach in a vacuum: people have seen – are seeing – the scandals in the church, the failures of administration to take action, the general sluggishness in fac­ing issues. So honesty about the problems within the priest­hood today is a pre-requisite, or what is said is dismissed as obscurantist. Refuge in the distinction between the shining ideal and the sordid affairs of individual situations likewise does not appease people, and in any case one cannot speak of some ideal church – it is the real historical church that is the vehicle of the gospel. If you cannot face speaking in such blunt terms about the state of the presbyterate, then it is per­haps best to leave the topic alone.

2. If one opts to preach on the gospel text, the situation is not helped by the fact that the reading lacks context. However, the shepherd / flock imagery is part of the basic stratum of the kerygma (see the Eucharistic Prayer in the Didache which predates all our other textual references to the theme). From the Didache we can get some idea of the world of images that lies behind today’s gospel. In Ezekiel the scattering of the people of Israel is seen as a result of their sins, and there is the promise that YHWH will one day send a good shepherd ­unlike the wicked shepherds who led the people astray ­who will gather the isolated people and make them into one flock of the Lord. This is the theme that the Didache takes up:

Christ has gathered all the scattered individuals and formed them into a new, transformed body – his own. This is the cause of their joy as followers, which they see celebrated in the Eucharist, and for which they see themselves as offering thanks with the Son of David to the Father. This is the theme that can be derived from today’s gospel: Christ has called each of us, he knows each of us by name, he has gathered us to form the church and this assembly.

3. This theme of Christ the gatherer, the true leader, and the one who has made us into this people now at the Eucharist is a valuable one to explore. It also points out that all Christians ­whether they are called’ shepherds’ / pastors or not – have to see themselves as followers of Christ.

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John Littleton
Reflection
 

Easter celebrates the joy and glory of the risen Lord Jesus. It acknowledges that he is indeed the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. He is completely faithful to his heavenly Father’s will. Yet submitting to it had very serious implications for him.

Jesus loved sinners so much that he suffered and died for them. We need to realise that we are among those sinners and that we contributed to Jesus’ suffering. But, as we know, Jesus’ shepherding role did not end with his death on the cross. God raised him from the dead and, as a result, he freely shares his risen life with all those who, through baptism, have become brothers and sisters. Living the baptised life requires that we imitate Jesus’ example by obeying the Father’s will.

Jesus was a marvellous communicator. He used the image of the shepherd when teaching about the nature of God because he knew that his audiences understood the work of a shepherd and that they could easily distinguish between good and bad shepherds. Good shepherds ensured that their sheep were safely locked in pens at night. They double-checked that no other animals had slipped in, animals that might harm the unsuspecting sheep.

Vigilance is the watchword of good shepherds and that is what Jesus asks us to be vigilant in our fight against temptation and sin, aware that we need the Good Shepherd’s help to remain safe spiritually. Thus the challenge today is precisely the same as that facing the first century disciples of Jesus: to be ready to suffer and, if necessary, to die for him.

Being followers of Jesus demands that we are willing to be inconvenienced and, when necessary, to be prepared to suffer in defending our faith. This involves struggling to perfect our fallen human nature by, for example, putting the needs of other people first, rather than being self-centred and selfish. This is what Jesus demonstrated by his preaching and lifestyle.

The reason why Jesus was able to behave so decently and honourably towards those who treated him badly was because he was always in perfect union with God his heavenly Father who loved him and supported him. Jesus knew that, regardless of the circumstances in which he found himself, he was never alone. God never deserted him. This knowledge gave him great consolation and encouragement.

In imitating Jesus’ example, we are challenged by the Good News to imitate his behaviour, whatever the circumstances. We recognise and look to him as the Good Shepherd who never leaves us untended.
 
Prayer Reflection 

“If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because
your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together
.” An Australian Aboriginal
Lord, we pray for those who work in community development.
They often find that they cannot motivate people or get them to change their ways,
and they think that what people need is to take courses or develop new skills.
But Jesus taught us the secret of being shepherds:
if people don’t feel that they belong to us they will not hear our voice,
and unless they get the feeling that we know them they won’t follow us.

Lord we thank you for deep relationships:
- a spouse, an intimate friend, a leader to whom we entrusted ourselves,
a priest who ministered to us.
We remember how the very first time we met
we knew that we belonged to them, and recognized their voice;
we felt that they knew us through and through,
and spontaneously we followed them.

Lord, there are people in our country who are always talked down to
because they are considered uneducated or unintelligent.
We pray that at least in our Church communities they may know that they belong,
that leaders know them and accept them for who they are.

Lord, one of the frustrating things about being a teacher
is that we wonder if we are getting through to our students.
But every once in a while you send us someone who is your special gift to us,
someone we know instinctively belongs to us and follows us;
we know they might stray for a while, but they will never be lost or stolen from us.

Lord, when people we love leave us we become jealous:
- our followers turn to another leader;
- a favourite child starts to show a preference for the other parent;
- a friend gets close to someone else.
Even as a Church we are jealous when members join another Church.
Lord, at the root of all jealousy is insecurity.
If we were more like Jesus we would accept those you give us with trust,
knowing that if they are really your gift to us
then no one can steal them from us
because you are greater than anyone and no one can steal from you.

“Bind us with cords that cannot be broken.”   Popular hymn
Lord, we thank you for moments of deep prayer when we feel perfectly secure,
so that we don’t need to ask for anything,
to beg for forgiveness or to make promises.
We know that in Jesus we and you are one and we are one with all creation,
because everything is your gift and you are greater than anyone,
and no power in heaven or on earth can steal from you.
 

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Father James Gilhooley
A preacher once told this story about everyone's favorite psalm, the twenty third. In a family gathering, a youngster stood up and recited it from memory. It was a beautiful rendition. His words flowed like music. His folks applauded enthusiastically and asked him to do it a second time. He proudly obliged. Then this old man stood up. In a cracked and halting voice, he began, "The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want..." His family sat there hypnotized till the conclusion. They were too overwhelmed to applaud. One of their company later summed up the reaction of all, "The boy knows the psalm, but the old man knows the shepherd."

A poet was sharing some of his work with an audience. He invited them to listen not only with the ears of their head but also with the ears in their hearts. We would do well to do something similar with today's Gospel. It does much to flesh out the person of Jesus. He becomes less a mystery and more an open book.

The Teacher refers to His relationship to us as that of shepherd to sheep. Some of us might like to think that the application of shepherd to Himself was original with Him. Yet, scholars are quick to burst our bubble on that point.

As a matter of fact, the term shepherd applied to leaders was quite common. The Greek poet Homer who lived out his life about a millennium before the Christ called the celebrated soldier Agamemnon "the shepherd of the people." And a trip to even a third rate museum on some city's back streets will show you images of the pharaohs of Egypt standing with the staff of the shepherd in their hands. Thus, when Jesus used the term in reference to Himself, no one was surprised.

But, as we all know from history, not all shepherds are the same. Many generals and pharaohs oftentimes seemed to be direct blood kin to such as Ivan the Terrible or Messrs Stalin and Hitler. All in all, many shepherds do a pretty dreadful number on their sheep.

But, as Arthur Tonne points out, the Christ took very special care of the physical needs of His sheep. Luke 18 tells us he restored sight to a blind man. John 2 tells us that Mary told her Son, "They have no wine." And we all know what happened. Recall too the Roman officer who pleaded with Him in Matthew 8 for his ill servant. It almost goes without saying the servant was on his feet in an instant. Matthew 14 tells us what He did with five loaves and a few fish for a famished mob. Surely our shepherd is one of a kind.

But His concern went beyond the physical. Eagerly this shepherd listened to His sheep with both the ears of His head as well as the ears in His heart.  He was a most effective counselor, advocate,  and listener. There was about Him no condescension. He was quite willing to spend, as we like to say, quality time with His constituency. Check it out in the Gospels. Look up Nicodemus, the widow of Nain, the blind fellow, the leper, etc. If you wanted His time, consider it yours. His own agenda He put on the back burner. His time becomes your time. You need no appointment to approach Him. This shepherd is an all time winner.

And, as today's Gospel indicates, He was most anxious to get His sheep out of this transitory life and into eternal life. In the words of the union organizers of old, He believed not only in bread on the table but roses too. His agenda was twofold - making both this life more attractive and making heaven the final stop. If you have the patience to hunt them out, you will find that references are made to eternal life a dozen times from chapters 3 through 6 of John's Gospel. And today's Gospel raises that number to a mighty thirteen. "I give them, said the Nazarene, "eternal life; they will never be lost." (vs 28)

If you are given the option of knowing either Psalm 23 or the shepherd, be smart. Choose the shepherd every time out.

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Reflections (ACP) 

An Urgent Job to be done

During this period following on the Easter celebrations, there is one thing that the liturgy readings try to impress upon us, and that is the zeal and urgency the Apostles showed in preaching the good news about Christ. They disregarded every attempt on the part of the Jews to put a stop to them. Death threats did not deter them, and whether people accepted their message or not, they appeared to be driven on by an inner Godgiven sense of mission to hand on to everyone their faith in Jesus. This weekend every year is set aside as a time of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and we must bear in mind that the idea of vocations and that of handing on the faith are closely linked. We might from time to time ponder over the question: “Why did God create us?” The answer has to be that God is love, that God is goodness, and love and goodness are only meaningful if they are communicated to others, if there is someone else to be loved and to experience that goodness.

The Holy Spirit poured out his graces and gifts in abundance on the members of the early Church, and they in turn felt compelled to share them with others. In season and out of season, as St Paul puts it, the Apostles and those close to them preached the marvellous news about the salvation won for the world by Christ. And with the departure through death or old age, of these disciples, from the scene of this activity, there was no scarcity of people to take their place. It is this willingness on the part of chosen members of a community to devote their lives to the task of spreading the gospel message that helps that community to survive and adapt to new circumstances. There is no doubt about the quality of missionary zeal among the first members of the early Church, nor indeed that of the Irish people during the golden age of Irish monasticism, when throughout Europe monks and missionaries from these shores spread the Christian ideals of love of God and of living together in harmony and peace.

If here and now we are found wanting in these ideals there is one thing we can and must do, pray. People only pray for things they really want, such as health, success, secure employment, provision for their children’s future. But it is possible to enjoy all of these and yet be conscious of a profound emptiness in one’s life, for we were intended for something greater than these passing attainments. God has created us for himself, to be the recipients of his love and goodness for all eternity. This surely is something worth praying for, as are the vocations of those God chooses as his special agents in helping people attain their destiny. Not only is it important to pray for these, to think and talk about them, but they are so vitally necessary as to urge parents to encourage sons and daughters to consider seriously the option of a vocation within the family.

It is within the context of family that most vocations are nurtured. The French Jesuit, scientist and philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin, once said, “I come from a family where I became who I am. The great majority of my opinions, of my likes and dislikes, of my values and appreciations, of my judgments, my behaviour, my tastes, were moulded by the family I came from.” For this reason parents remain, and always will remain, the first and most important teachers of the faith to their children. In fulfilling this role they should strive to make prayer, daily family prayer, a natural part of life within the home. By so doing, they will most certainly be sowing the seeds of those vocations which in the providence of God will be necessary to minister to the spiritual needs of the next generation. Such vocations, however, must also be seen in the context of the whole spiritual life, the spiritual values, the spiritual aspirations of the community in which they are nurtured.

Each one here present can truly say, “as God called the Israelites to be his special people, just so has he called me. So what I do, what I am, concerns other people to as great an extent as it does myself.” Therefore, on this special Sunday, each one should feel in duty bound to ask God’s blessing, so that generous souls may not be wanting in the apostolic work of teaching and preaching to all nations. Christ’s injunction to his disciples was quite explicit, “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he may send labourers to his harvest” (Mt 9:37). 

God the Shepherd 

Jesus often illustrated his teaching by referring to shepherds and sheep. He sees himself as the Good Shepherd foretold by the prophets. Today’s gospel considers the relationship between Jesus the Good Shepherd and the sheep. The imagery is old. The message is topical. It is relevant to us. By faith we accept Jesus, Our relationship is a deeply personal one. The bond of love uniting us is based on the love that unites the Father and Jesus. Our new existence is founded on God’s unbreakable love and faithfulness.

In order to gain eternal life – the ultimate benefit of our new existence – we must listen to Jesus and obey him. The alternative opening prayer puts this in practical terms. We have to attune our minds to the sound of his voice. We have to allow him to lead our steps in the path he has shown. We could reflect on whether we are doing that. Self-centredness can make us deaf to the voice of Jesus. The easy option can cause us to wander into easier paths than the one he has traced. Pressure to abandon Christian principles is inevitable. There is no need for anxiety. God is faithful. He will not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength. No one can drag us away from him, The Father has entrusted us to his Son. The same God who displayed his unbreakable faithfulness to Jesus by raising him from the dead will also raise us by his power.

Paul and Barnabas ‘spoke out boldly’, and made an impact. A courageous proclamation of the gospel to our contemporaries can be as fruitful now as it was in apostolic times. All the baptized, particularly those who are confirmed, are bound to spread the faith. Laity as well as priests and religious are in the service of the Risen Lord.

Recent popes have often urged us to take persoal part in the work of evangelisation. Are we doing so? How many evils persist in our society just because good people say nothing and do nothing? A breviary hymn of Eastertide (no.25) spells out what is expected of us by the Risen Lord: Now he bids us tell abroad/How the lost may be restored/How the penitent forgiven/ How we too may enter heaven.

John’s magnificent vision depicts the happiness of heaven. Our departed sisters and brothers, many of whom suffered persecution and martyrdom, now see God as he really is. They rejoice in his presence in satisfied love. We are still on our pilgrim way. The resurrection gives us firm ground for hoping that we will eventually share their happiness. Even now we are united with them in the communion of saints. The liturgy we are celebrating and the heavenly liturgy portrayed by John form two parts of one canticle of praise. We offer it through the glorious and triumphant Christ to the One who sits on the throne. 

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 

1. Called ‘Sheep’ – the dumbest animal! 

One Sunday morning, following the church service, a layman accosted the pastor and said, "Tom, this church has been insulting me for years, and I did not know it until this week." The stunned pastor replied, "What on earth do you mean?" "Well," said the layman, every Sunday morning the call to worship in this church ends with the words, 'We are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.' And I have heard ministers over the years call the congregation, God's flock.' Then this past week I visited the Chicago stockyards. There I discovered that sheep are just about the dumbest animals God ever created. Why, they are so stupid that they even follow one another docilely into the slaughterhouse. Even pigs are smarter than sheep, and I would certainly be angry if my church called me a pig' every Sunday morning. So I'm not at all sure I want to come to church and be called a sheep' any longer...even God's sheep'."  

The man had a point. But whether we like it or not, that is the language of the Bible: both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. We are called "God's sheep." The favorite psalm of many people is the 23rd, and it begins by saying, "The Lord is my shepherd..." And if "the Lord is my shepherd," then I am one of the Lord's sheep. Centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah said to his people: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) From the Bible, we have taken this pastoral imagery over into the Church. One of the symbols of the office of bishop across the centuries has been the shepherd's crook, that long staff with a hook on the end... 
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2. Life can go from normal to nightmare in a nanosecond.  

Take hurricane Katrina. In two days there was no "normal" left for hundreds of thousands of Gulf coast residents. The well-housed went to homeless overnight, and people were left struggling just to find shelter, find food, and find clean water. The bare basics of life became the most all-important "finds."  

But not long after - once two days became a week - another need became pungently apparent. People needed clean clothes. Babies continued to trash their onesies, socks stank, T-shirts were as hard as T-bones.  

It was in response to the Katrina catastrophe that Tide detergent first started a program called "Loads of Hope." An eighteen-wheeler "semi" was out-fitted with thirty-two energy efficient washers and dryers. With its accompaniment of support vans, Tide's "Loads of Hope" express was able to handle up to three hundred loads of laundry each day. Katrina refugees were offered a place where their laundry could be washed, dried and folded. For free.

Who said it first - "Cleanliness is next to godliness?" If that's true, if cleanliness is next to godliness, then how many of us live in evil houses, drive ungodly cars, and shake unholy hands?

The gift of cleanliness. We don't think about cleanliness until it is gone. Your sink stops up and the dirty dishes start to accumulate until they take over the kitchen. Your washing machine dies and suddenly you have no clean underwear and the laundry room turns into a Fort Knox for funky smells.

Or, worst of all, something in your life breaks - a relationship, a promise, a dream, a hope, a haven - and a snowballing of bad side-effects start stinking up your world more than you could have ever imagined. 

We are not clean. We are creatures. And creatures stink and sweat and stain everything we touch with sins and shortcomings...
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3. Humor: Goodness and Mercy 

A couple retired to a small Arizona ranch and acquired a few sheep. At lambing time, it was necessary to bring two newborns into the house for care and bottle-feeding.

As the lambs grew, they began to follow the rancher's wife around the farm. She was telling a friend about this strange development.

"What did you name them?" the friend asked her.
"Goodness and Mercy," she replied with a sigh. 

She was referring of course to a line in everyone's favorite Psalm, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (KJV).

Our lessons for today from Scripture all refer to sheep or shepherds. It is probably the most familiar image in Scripture. God is a shepherd. We are God's sheep. Sheep were important to the agricultural lives of the ancient Hebrews. That is perhaps why sheep are mentioned more than 500 times in the Bible, more than any other animal.  

King Duncan
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4. He Knows Our Names 

There is an old story of a census taker who was making his rounds in the Lower East Side of New York, who interviewed an Irish woman bending over her washtub. "Lady, I am taking the census. What's your name? How many children have you?" She replied, "Well, let me see. My name is Mary. And then there's Marcia, and Duggie, and Amy, and Patrick, and..." "Never mind the names," he broke in, "just give me the numbers." She straightened up, hands on hips, and with a twinkle in her eye, said, "I'll have ye know, sir, we ain't got into numberin' them yet. We ain't run out of names!" The image of God as the Good Shepherd tells us that is the way it is with God. He knows us by name.

Donald B. Strobe, Collected Words
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 5. Sheep Know Their Shepherd 

In her book The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor tells of a conversation she had with a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the Midwest. According to him, sheep are not dumb at all. "It is the cattle ranchers who are responsible for spreading that ugly rumor, and all because sheep do not behave like cows. Cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all. Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, her friend said, but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first-namely, their shepherd-who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right." 

Sheep know their shepherd and their shepherd knows them. 

He went on to say that "it never ceased to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single one of them, while a stranger could not step foot in the fold without causing pandemonium." 

Sheep & shepherds develop a language of their own.

Unknown Source
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 6. The Rewards of Loving

 There once was a young woman who had a baby boy. Just after her son's baptism, a ragged old man came to her, and offered to grant her one wish on behalf of her son. Thinking only the best for her baby, the woman wished that her son would always be loved by everyone he met. The old man said, "so be it," and vanished. It turned out just as he said.

As the boy grew, everyone loved him so much that he never lacked for anything. Yet, things did not turn out as expected. As adored and admired as the young man was, he experienced a terrible emptiness within him. He could have anything he wanted, just by asking, but he had no real friends. He never knew the joy of a day's work or an achievement, richly rewarded. His neighbors took care of all his needs. The young man became cynical, jaded and selfish as none of his actions ever brought him any negative consequences.

Finally, the day came when his aged mother died. At the funeral, the same mysterious old man appeared and offered the young man one wish. The young man took him up on his offer and asked that his mother's original wish for him be changed. Rather than being loved by everyone he met, the young man asked the old wizard to give him the power to love everyone he met. And, the story goes, from that day forward he knew happiness such as no one on this earth has ever known.

Keith Wagner, The Promise of Listening
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7. Called by Many Voices  

Now if I had to nominate one animal to represent the word mediocre, a sheep would easily be in the top five. Sheep are not independent. They cannot defend themselves like cattle. They are not strong, creative, brave nor will they initiate. They cannot even work up a good stampede. Normally, they just sort of meander. Also, sheep will not be driven, like cattle. They will scatter in a thousand different directions. This type of behavior did not earn the animal any respect on the open range so the ranchers assumed that the animal was dumb. However, a sheep is actually smarter than a cow.

So why does Jesus choose to use a sheep to represent his disciples? Even in ancient society, sheep and shepherds did not garner the respect and admiration of the rich and famous. They did not have a contest to see which shepherd would be the next "Israeli Idol." For us who do not live in an agrarian society, it is even harder to understand. I have never identified myself with a sheep. Popular artists write songs about soaring on the wings of eagles, not grazing with the lambs.

Sheep have one particularly admirable quality. They will follow their shepherd wherever he leads them. They have learned to know him and trust him. They are not easily distracted by another shepherd. Move three flocks into a field, place three shepherds at three strategic points and have each of them issue a call. The sheep will sort themselves. You will not need brands to recognize which sheep belongs to which shepherd. Every animal will only follow his/her shepherd.

The people of God have been placed in a very large field that is often called the world. Many voices are calling us to come and join them. The voice of materialism wants us to deny our faith in the supernatural and believe only in the physical world. The voice of consumerism calls us to fulfill our envy by overspending on vacations, cars, clothing and a home. The voice of entertainment wants to fill our lives with media driven flashes that grab our attention, isolate us from our family and friends and then leave us with nothing but an oversized bill.

John H. Pavelko, The Voice That Calls Us to Follow
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 8. Basic Instructions before Leaving Earth 

A story is going around the internet right now about a little boy who tells his father that he knows exactly what the Bible means. Of course Dad says, "Oh, yeah. What does the Bible mean." To which the little boy responds: "The Bible means Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth."

I really like that. The Bible is our basic instruction book for life and relationships. Oh, I know, you can't turn to an index and get direct advice about how to deal with your straight A student who suddenly decides they want to pierce their eyebrows or dye their hair clown orange. Or a child who has decided that the only thing they can eat is a diet of quail eggs, jicama, kiwi and tabouli. It doesn't give direct answers about what movies we should let our children see or what curfew we should set for what age. 

But it DOES speak to us of a loving caring God. It IS filled with stories of loving caring parents. It DOES show by example what loving relationships should be like. It DOES tell us the ramifications of disobedience and disrespect. And it DOES talk about grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, and about giving and sacrifice.  

Billy D. Strayhorn, Sometimes They Smell Like Sheep
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 9. Stability Zones 

In his book, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler explains how, in this modern world of rapid change, confusion and over-choice, we all need some kind of "stability zones" - regular habits, rituals, beliefs - whatever it is that gives us a stable point of reference. It would be difficult to deny the wisdom of Toffler's observation, or to miss its application to the role of religious faith in our lives. The grace of God as revealed in Jesus, the Christ, is surely our ultimate stability zone.

Carl L. Jech, Channeling Grace
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10. What Is Unique About Christianity? 

The story of Jesus sitting and debating the Law with rabbis reminds me of another debate that took place in a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God became incarnate in human form. But someone quickly said, "Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form." Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.

Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, armful of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, "what's all this rumpus about?" Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, "We're debating what's unique about Christianity." "Oh, that's easy," answered Lewis, “"It's grace."
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From Father Tony Kadavil's collection:

Anecdote #I: “I know the Psalm but he knows the Shepherd:” Years ago the great actor Richard Burton was given a grand reception in his childhood parish. While replying to the complimentary speeches in the parish auditorium he asked if there was anything they specially wanted to hear from him. After a minute's pause his old pastor asked him if he could recite the Good Shepherd Psalm, Psalm 23 which he had taught Burton in his Sunday school. A strange look came over the actor's face. He paused for a moment, and then said, "I will, on one condition—that after I have recited it, you, my pastor and teacher will do the same." “I,” said the old and retired pastor “I am not an actor, but, if you wish it, I shall do so.” Impressively the actor began the Psalm. His voice and intonation were perfect. He held his audience spellbound, and, as he finished, a great burst of applause broke from the audience. As it died away, the old pastor rose from his wheelchair and began to recite the same Psalm. His voice was feeble and shivering and   his tone was not faultless.  But, when he finished, there was not a dry eye in the room. The actor rose and his voice quivered as he said, '"Ladies and gentlemen, I reached your eyes and ears, but my old pastor has reached your hearts. The difference is just this: I know the Psalm but he knows the Shepherd." This Good Shepherd Sunday Jesus wants us to know him by experiencing him and to become good shepherds to those entrusted to our care. 
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#2: "Who's running the Church, you or the Holy Spirit?"  Here is an anecdote that perfectly conveys the humble spirit of Pope John XXIII as a good shepherd.  On the evening when he announced the opening of the Second Vatican Council -- the first one since 1870 -- he couldn't sleep.  Finally, he called himself to order: "Angelo, why aren't you sleeping?  Who's running the Church, you or the Holy Spirit?  So sleep."  And he did.  Prior to his being elected pope, Angelo Roncalli served as a clerical diplomat in Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece; as Papal Nuncio in Paris; and as Patriarch of Venice.  All this training helped him deal with social problems in society and in the Church.  While still an Archbishop, he noted: "Wherever I go, I pay more attention to what we have in common than to what separates us."  Pope John XXIII began his mission by promising to be "a good shepherd."  He brought a real revolution to the Apostolic Palace by getting rid of the three prescribed genuflections in private audiences and by his impromptu conversations with workers and gardeners on the streets of Vatican City.  He was the first pope in history "to pay tribute to the part played by women in public life and to the growing awareness of their human dignity."  Best of all, by convening the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII, led by the Holy Spirit, set in motion a spirit of reform that continues to our day.  In September of 2000, this son of Italian peasants was beatified.
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# 3: Mother Teresa’s Good Shepherd prayer: During her visit to the United Nations several years ago, Mother Theresa was approached by a diplomat who said, “I am not a Catholic, Mother.  But I want to know: how should I pray.”  The frail little nun took his burly hands in hers and spread out five of his fingers on one hand.  “When you pray,” she said, “Think about the many blessings you have received; then, at the end of the day, count out on each finger the words spoken to you by Jesus: You.. did.. this.. for.. me.”  The diplomat left holding up his hand as though it were a trophy and saying: “You did this for me.” In this simple prayer, Mother Theresa made the Resurrection seem real.  What she meant was that the love and peace of the Good Shepherd is present to us in the many moments of compassion that bless our lives:  in kind words, in the listening ear, in generous actions.  Jesus is also present in the blessings we extend to others.  The Good Shepherd of today’s gospel guides us every day in our journey to eternal life.

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 #4: The young pastor was teaching the 23rd psalm to the Sunday school children. He told them that they were sheep who needed guidance.  Then the priest asked, "If you are the sheep, then who is the shepherd?"-- obviously indicating himself.  A silence of a few seconds followed.  Then a young boy said, "Jesus. Jesus is the shepherd."  The young priest, obviously caught by surprise, said to the boy, "Well then, who am I?"  The boy frowned thoughtfully and then said, "I guess you must be a sheep dog."
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 #5: A man in an Armani suit, Ferragamo shoes, the latest Polarized sunglasses and a tightly knotted power tie emerges from his shiny silver BMW car, approaches a shepherd guarding his flock, and proposes a wager: "Will you give me one of your sheep, if I can tell you the exact number in this flock?"  The shepherd accepts.  "973," says the man.  The shepherd, astonished at the accuracy, says, "I'm a man of my word; take the sheep you have won."  The man picks a ‘sheep’ and begins to walk away.  "Wait," cries the shepherd, "Let me have a chance to get even.  Will you return my animal if I tell what your job is?”  "Sure," replies the man.  "You are an economist for a government think tank," says the shepherd.  "Amazing!" responds the man, "How did you deduce that?”  "Well," says the shepherd, “you drove into my field uninvited.  You asked me to pay you for information I already know, answered questions I haven’t asked, and you know nothing about my business.  Now put down my dog; it is not a sheep.”