Easter 4 Sunday C: Good Shepherd


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 Good Shepherd 7theme 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.

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.

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.
“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own does not.
I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, does not.
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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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 andjust.

Gospel Comment:  In 10:27-30
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.

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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3. Sean Goan
Gospel
In the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel the focus is on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This language is to be understood in the light of Old Testament ideas that God was the shepherd of Israel and that their kings were meant to follow his example. Often they failed in this duty and the people were abandoned. Kingdom TreasuresThis explains the importance of Jesus describing himself as the shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. In the text for today, the emphasis is on the relationship that must exist between Jesus and the members of his flock. They are known by Jesus (this is the intimate knowledge of friendship) and they listen to him and follow him on the path that leads to life. All of this is possible because Jesus is completely united with God his Father.

Reflection

A superficial reading of the Acts of the Apostles might lead one to imagine that the early days of the church were so blessed by : the presence of the Spirit that it was easy for the disciples to remain faithful and for the church to grow. church- athersHowever, this was clearly not the case. The first generations of believers were setting out on a journey into unchartered territory and they faced huge problems, including marginalisation and even death. The New Testament, both in the Acts and the Book of Revelation, is witnessing not to the ease with which they undertook their task but rather to their courage and openness in facing whatever came their way. It is also a witness to their utter conviction that Jesus was with them through all their experiences.
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4. Donal Neary S.J.
Gospel reflections

Christian love
‘God, that’s very true’ — a remark at our liturgy meeting after the second reading. Jealousy kills, envy too, and isn’t it great to rejoice in the good fortune of another?
Love is what we bring with us at the end of life. ‘We will be judged in the evening of life by love (St John of the Cross). Love for those near and far, for love in the gospel is more than love for just the family, the friend, the attractive one, the neighbour, for all.
There are different calls to Christian love – near and dear daily love, friendship, marriage, relationships. The wider world like in our job where we live in a loving way, in justice with all, not using others for personal gain; the wider world where a universal love makes me want to make a difference in the bigger world. Love carries us into wide seas and waters. It involves us with everyone. It obviously doesn’t mean we relate to everyone – nor that we even like everyone. Love is when others’ lives become at least as important as our own; and in the deepest loves like marriage, family, and often friendship, others’ lives become even more important.
love changes usLove changes — we look back and see how the people we loved make the difference. Life is too short to look love in the face and say no. ‘We are moulded and remoulded by those who have loved us, and though their love may pass, we are nevertheless their work’ (F Mauriac).
The second reading today is hard to beat! We see it in action when we look at the life of Jesus.
Jesus whose heart is wide enough to love us all,make our hearts like yours.

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From the Connections:
 
Today's brief Gospel is the conclusion of the Good Shepherd discourse in Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel.  Yahweh, the eternal shepherd of Israel (cf. Ezekiel 34), has raised up his own Son as the Good Shepherd to guide the new Israel of the Church to eternal life.  In listening to the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd, the “flock” finds its way to the Father.

HOMILY POINTS:

Christ the Good Shepherd calls us to listen consciously, deliberately, wisely for his voice in the depths of our hearts, to listen for his voice in the love and joy, the pain and anguish, the cries for mercy and justice of those around us; Christ the Son of God assures us that we are always safe and accepted in the loving embrace of his Father. 
To embrace the true joy of this Easter season is to open our hearts and spirits, our minds and consciousness to hear the voice of God in our midst and then echo that voice in our living the Gospel of the Easter Christ. 

Final Exam
When Pauline Chen began medical school twenty years ago, she dreamed of saving lives.  What she did not count on was how much death would be a part of her work.  She chronicles her wrestling with medicine’s profound paradox in her recent book,

Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality.
When a patient is dying in the intensive care unit, the protocol is always the same:  Doors and curtains are closed around the patient and family, monitors are turned off — and physicians make themselves scarce.  But one death during her internship dramatically changed Doctor Chen’s thinking.  Early one morning, a patient’s heart began to fail after his long battle with colon cancer.  Doctor Chen called the family and the attending surgeon.  The dying man’s wife arrived first.  Doctor Chen took her to her husband’s room and quietly slipped out, as protocol dictated.  But when the attending arrived, he took the woman’s hand and quietly explained what was happening.  She began to sob.  But then, contrary to the norm, the doctor closed the curtains around the three of them. 
Doctor Chen remembers:
“I peeked in.  Inside, the woman was still sobbing, but she was standing with her hand in her husband’s.  The surgeon stood next to her and whispered something; the woman nodded and her sobs subsided.  Her shoulders relaxed and her breathing became more regular.  The surgeon whispered again, pointing to the monitors and to the patient’s chest and then gently putting his hand on the patient’s arm.  He was, I thought, explaining how life leaves the body — the last contractions of the heart, the irregular breaths, the final comfort of her presence . . . Thirty minutes passed before the surgeon stepped out.  Soon after, the patient’s wife appeared; her husband had died.  She thanked us, smiled weakly, and walked out of the ICU.”
What the attending surgeon did that morning had a profound effect on Doctor Chen.  She stopped slipping away from her dying patients but stayed with them and their families, answering questions, explaining what was happening, offering comfort and consolation.
“From that moment on,” Doctor Chen writes, “I would believe that I could do something more than cure.”

Christ the Good Shepherd calls us to listen consciously, deliberately, wisely for his voice in the depths of our hearts, to listen for his voice in the love and joy, the pain and anguish, the cries for mercy and justice of those around us; Christ the Son of God assures us that we are always safe and accepted in the loving embrace of his Father.  In turn, to be disciples of Christ is to be the voice of Christ and the embrace of God for one another, in the compassion, peace and forgiveness we work for and offer in the Spirit of the Risen One.  
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From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In today's reading we see the power of the Risen Lord, which had transformed Peter, who preaches eloquently and takes on the establishment. Peter was speaking to the elders, the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, a powerful opposition for an uneducated fisherman, yet he and the other apostles displayed courage and greatness as they confront them head on. "If we are being questioned and asked how this man was healed, let it be known, that this man is standing in good health by the name of Jesus of Nazareth." Peter could have taken the credit for the miracle. Peter has learnt his lesson and knows that if he relies on himself he will fall, but his confidence is in the Lord, who never fails. Peter moves from the immediate fact of the healing, to the thing signified, namely the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Good Shepherds

In San Salvador on March 24, 1980, an assassin killed Archbishop Oscar Romero with a single shot to the heart while he was saying Mass. Only a few minutes before, Archbishop Romero had finished a hope-filled homily in which he urged the people to serve one another. Since Archbishop Romero was demanding human rights for his people under oppression, he knew that his life was in danger. Still he persisted in speaking out against tyranny and for freedom. He once told newspapermen that even if his enemies killed him, he would rise again among his people. Today, good shepherds who lay down their lives mean husbands and wives who can't do enough for each other to demonstrate their commitment to each other; parents who make countless sacrifices for the good of their children; teachers who spend untold hours instructing the weak students; doctors and nurses who work untiringly to show they care for their patients; employers who share profits with their workers; politicians who unselfishly promote the common good of their voters and parishioners who generously support their parish community.

Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'


One of the most beautiful descriptions of God given by Jesus is contained in today's gospel reading where he proclaims: "I am the good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep." Jesus was the visible sign of God's constant care for his people. In our present day set-up the image of the shepherd may be alien to us but in Palestine the shepherd was a common figure in the countryside. The shepherd in Palestine led his flock, he did not drive them as shepherds elsewhere did. The shepherd literally lived with his flock, spent most of the day and night with them. Though there were hundreds of sheep belonging to different shepherds, the shepherd knew his own and his own sheep recognized his voice and followed him to the pastures. The good shepherd cared for the sheep to the point of death. He does not just surrender his life for his sheep, but he gives his life willingly, as He said at the last supper.

Knowing His sheep

One of the memories I have of the home of my birth was a dog we had, called Roxy. We lived on a fairly quiet road, but as the years went by, the number of cars increased. Irrespective of how many passed by, Roxy was quite indifferent. Then suddenly, the ears were at full stretch, up he sprang, and raced at full speed along the road. There was no sign of anything coming, but we all knew that my mother was on her way, driving back from town, and was probably several hundred yards away. With all the cars, this was the sound that Roxy recognized from a distance. By the time he met the car, my mother had rolled down the window on the passenger side, slowed down slightly and with the car still moving, Roxy sprang right into the front seat and accompanied her on the latter part of the journey. I'm sure most of us have known unique relationships between animals and humans.

Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'


A Good Shepherd

After a particularly brilliant concert, Beethoven was in the centre of congratulating friends and admirers, who praised his piano magic. One unusually enthusiastic woman exclaimed: "Oh, sir, if God had only given me the gift of genius!" "It is not genius, madam," replied Beethoven. "Nor magic. All you have to do is practice on your piano eight hours a day for forty years and you'll be as good as I am." We Christians have a leading role to play in redeeming the world, being porters of Jesus the Good Shepherd. That demands strenuous work, persistence and perseverance in doing good. Beethoven was able to perform great things because of his patience and perseverance. Any leadership implies that quality.

Anthony Kolencherry in 'Living the Word'


I know the Psalm, he knows the Shepherd

A group of men sat around debating good and bad memories. As a result of the discussion an impromptu contest began, to test their memories. One young man, with some artistic talent and training in voice production, recited Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd.' The rendition was very very effective, and he drew thunderous applause, so he had to recite the Psalm a second and third time. The second 'contestant' was an elderly man, over in the corner. He was rather stooped, and it was difficult to hear every word as he too recited 'The Lord is my Shepherd'. When he was finished, there was total silence in the room. Something strange had happened. Unconsciously, many people felt a sense of inner stirring, and a few began to whisper a quiet prayer. The young man who had recited the Psalm first time around, stood up and explained the different reception to the two recitals of the same Psalm. "I know the Psalm" he said, "but it is obvious that the old man knows the Shepherd".

Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'


Believe in the God of miracles!

"Mom, I need new shoes," Nicky announced as he burst through the door after school. "Miss Bell says it's dangerous to run in the gym with my toe sticking out." I looked down at my son's blue tennies. "You're right, Nicky. It's time for some new tennies, but you'll have to wait until our next pay check...." "But, Mother," Nicky protested, "I can't wear these shoes for gym anymore. Miss Bell said!" I launched into an elaborate discourse on budgeting principles. "So you see, Nicky," I concluded, "that's how Mommy and Daddy spend money. Tennis shoes are not in the budget this time; next time they will be." "Then I'll pray about my shoes," Nicky announced. "I'll tell God I need the money by tomorrow."....When he left for school the next morning, new tennis shoes were still uppermost on his mind. "Can we buy my shoes tonight? You'll get the money today, because I prayed about it." "We'll see, Nicky," I replied as I kissed him goodbye. There wasn't time to explain just then. But the need to explain didn't come; Nicky's answer came instead. "This is long overdue... sorry for the oversight," said the note I received in the mail that afternoon. The enclosed check, payment for an article I'd written long ago and forgotten, was more than enough to pay for Nicky's new shoes. After school, Nicky's blue eyes danced. "See, Mom, I told you it would come. Now can we buy my shoes?" Today Nicky wears new blue-and-gold tennis shoes - poignant reminders of a child's simple trust and of my need to continually relearn what faith is all about.

Ruth Sentor


True Shepherd or hireling

I remember a story of an atheistic journalist who, on one occasion, was visiting a leprosarium run by a group of religious sisters. When he entered a certain ward, he noticed a sister moving from one patient to another, cheerfully attending to each one with a nurturing love that was absolutely admirable. Unable to restrain his curiosity, he walked up to the religious and said, "Sister, I wouldn't do this job even if you gave me a million dollars." The sister smiled and replied, "neither would I my friend," and with that she continued tending to her patients. The journalist was absolutely dumbfounded. There and then he rejected his atheism. To quote his very own words, "A God who can inspire a human being to such dedicated and selfless service, in such revolting circumstances and with such good cheer cannot but be true. I believe in God." Such is the radical difference between a Good Shepherd and a hireling. One does his work because he wants to, the other does it because he has to; one has his heart in it, the other does not.

James Valladares in 'Your Words O Lord, Are Spirit, and They Are Life'


A Good Shepherd lays down his life

Saint Maximilian Kolbe is the patron of families, drug addicts, prisoners, journalists and pro-life movement, and he is known for founding the Immaculate Movement and producing the Knight of the Immaculata magazine. During World War II, Saint Maximilian housed over 3000 Polish refugees at his monastery. He was eventually imprisoned and sent to Auschwitz, where he experienced constant beatings and hard labour. St. Maximilian died in the place of a man with young children, who was chosen by the guards for the firing squad. Saint Kolbe is considered a good shepherd. He laid down his life for his sheep. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, a good time to pray for the good shepherds as well as the bad ones; and a good time to realize that the Good Shepherd still walks with us.

John Payappally in 'The Table of the Word'


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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.”