Gospel text : John 10:1-10
Pope John Paul II, the good shepherd.
Rev. Tony Campolo loves to tell the story of a particular census taker who went to the home of a rather poor family in the mountains of West Virginia to gather information. He asked the mother how many dependents she had. She began, "Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey. There's Johnny, and Harvey, and our dog, Willie." It was then that the census taker interrupted her aid said: "No, ma'am, that's not necessary. I only need the humans." "Ah," she said. "Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey, Johnny, and Harvey, and...." But there once again, the census taker interrupted her. Slightly exasperated, he said, "No, ma'am, you don't seem to understand. I don't need their names, I just need the numbers." To which the old woman replied, "But I don't know them by numbers. I only know them by name."
It leads me away from the faith,
It destroys my soul.
It leads me to the path of sex and violence for the advertiser’s sake.
Even though I walk in the shadow of Christian responsibilities,
There will be no interruption, for the TV is with me.
Its cable and remote control, they comfort me
It prepares a commercial for me in the midst of my worldliness
And anoints my head with secular humanism and consumerism.
My covetousness runs over;
Surely ignorance and laziness shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of wretchedness watching TV forever.
From Father James Gilhooley
This parable has lost impact in our urban society. A city kid in a college Scripture class told his professor, "I don't get any kicks being called a sheep. They're stupid and are led around." A farm boy didn't buy it: "I've seen a herd of sheep running wild. And could they move! If my father hadn't called to them and corralled them, they would have torn up our whole place." The city boy stayed quiet. To control sheep the shepherd must be Superman. City slickers need not apply.
and Luke as well as today's John applied it often to their Leader. Among the earliest pictures, perhaps the earliest, we find of Christ on catacomb walls is the young Jesus dressed as a shepherd with a sheep over His shoulders. It remains ever popular.
Michel de VerteuilGeneral comments
According to the liturgical tradition, the gospel reading on the fourth Sunday of Easter speaks about Jesus as shepherd, which is the theme of chapter 10 of St John’s gospel. This theme is dealt with in several sections or “movements”, as is often the case in this gospel. One movement is read on this Sunday each year of the three year cycle; this year we read the first movement.
Shepherd is one of the biblical titles for a leader, a memory of the days when the Jews were sheep rearing nomads. The passage therefore invites us to celebrate people who have “shepherded” us by touching our lives, some through direct contact, others from reading about them or hearing their stories.
We remember, too, great world leaders, in modern times or in the past, and recognise that they were the presence of Jesus in the world, “shepherding” the human family.
The passage can also be an examination of conscience on how we are fulfilling our vocation as parent, teacher, guide, friend, or leader in the church community.
Actually, the shepherd theme (or “parable”, as it is called in verse 6) is only in verses 1 to 5. In verses 7 to 10 Jesus speaks of himself as “the gate”.
The special characteristic of good shepherds is brought out in the passage in the relationship of trust between them and the sheep. They are trusting and in turn they inspire trust in those whom they lead. This wonderful quality – so rare in our experience – is expressed in a series of images, each of which can touch us deeply.
The shepherds “enter the sheepfold through the gate”, they are not devious; they “call the sheep by name” – no haranguing; they “go ahead of the sheep” – no looking back to see if they are being followed. The sheep “know the voice” of the shepherd; their relationship is almost instinctive, of the heart.
The image of the gate is not as well known as that of the shepherd and is more difficult to enter into, but if we make the effort it can be very touching. Leaders who are like a gate are the opposite of possessive; they are content to be the humble instruments through which others can “go freely in and out”, making their own way to “life to the full”. A wonderful picture indeed of great parents, teachers, community leaders and friends.
Lord, we remember with gratitude the great people we have known,
in the world and in our country:
teachers, fellow workers, community leaders,
parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts, elder brothers or sisters.
We remember how they came to us openly, without pretense,
passing through the open gate.
We knew immediately it was someone who understood us,
a voice we had always longed to hear.
We felt we were being called one by one, each by name.
They said what they had to say and went ahead,
not looking back suspiciously to make sure we were following,
and we did follow because we knew we were not with a stranger.
Lord, we ask you to bless leaders in our country and in the world.
Give them today the grace to look into their hearts
and ask themselves are they real shepherds of the flock.
Have they come openly through the gate like shepherds, or deviously like thieves?
Have they come to give life or to steal, kill and destroy?
Do they speak a foreign language that the sheep cannot recognise
so that they naturally run away from them?
Do they take the trouble to know their sheep
so that they can call them out one by one, by their own names?
Is their relationship with people one of trust,
freeing them to go ahead of the flock,
or must they always be looking back, wondering if they are being followed?
Lord, we ask you today to send us many good priests, religious and lay leaders,
men and women who will be like a gate to a sheepfold,
without the slightest trace of possessiveness,
happy to be a passageway
through which many will pass freely and live life to the full.
Lord, we pray for the Church
as it emerges among the ancient cultures of Asia, Africa and Latin America,
as it exists side by side with other faiths.
We pray that we may not be envious of things that others have and we don’t,
that we may never be destructive or the cause of people or institutions dying,
but rather that we may be true shepherds
whose only concern is that people may have life to the full.
Lord, we pray for our Church which is experiencing a bad patch in our history,
one of pain, scandal and betrayal of trust by some of our leaders.
Help us to relearn to trust in emerging good leaders who are of trying to guide us as Jesus did.
Introduction to the Celebration
2. Since the gospel text is opaque, and the use of allegory as its key usually results in something that is little more than a free association of ideas, it is worth inviting people to explore the dynamic underlying Luke’s ‘sermon’ in Acts, for this brings us face-to-face with what the evangelist saw as the kernel of the Christian vocation. So instead of a formal discourse, invite the assembly to work through the text meditativly, noting its main features.
3. The text can be conceived as trinitarian in structure. It supposes that the kerygma’s audience, both the audience described in the text and the text’s audience, begin from a position of belief in God who has brought them into existence, sent them his revelation, and exercises a providential care for them. This is the starting point of faith in God, who once the Son has been recognised will be acknowledged as Father; and with it goes a recognition of human need and incompleteness. This notion of providential care and the human predicament of sin is clearer when the whole text of Acts 2:14-41 is read – which could be summarised in a few words.
The Father has sent us, his children, his Son. Then we are given a list, of sorts, which set out what we receive through Jesus and his victory over death – we should note that Luke locates his sermon in the context of Easter, the Paschal mystery, and its proclamation:
– Jesus’s life, death and resurrection reveal the life of God;
– through Jesus we are remade as a community: the People of God;
– Jesus calls us to share in his Paschal Mystery and to enter his communion in baptism; and
– Jesus draws us to repentance, a new vision, a new lifestyle. We as baptised people have received the gift of the Spirit.
We are those ‘whom the Lord our God will call to himself’.
4. Such a recollection of the structure of the Paschal Mystery is appropriate to Eastertime. Moreover, the text of Acts lends itself to this narration of ‘the wonderful act of God’ which every Sunday Eucharist celebrates. A fitting conclusion to a homily whose style is a meditative pondering of a text is to simply read the final sentence of this section of Acts 2:42, which Luke imagines as the on-going effect in the hearers’ lives of their conversion on the day of Pentecost (the verse that opened the reading on Second Sunday of Easter), and this makes a good transition, after some moments of silence, to the recitation of the Creed.
A priest is a man who, having already been baptised, receives the sacrament of holy orders when the bishop ordains him. The priest is ordained to serve as a spiritual leader of God’s people in the local church. He imitates Jesus the Good Shepherd. This means that his essential role is to form and support a Christian community based on the proclamation of God’s word and the celebration of the sacraments. In particular, the priest presides at formal gatherings for worship, especially the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus he facilitates people in the expression and nurturing of their relationships with God.
What, then, distinguishes the ordained (or ministerial) priest from the priesthood of other members of the Church? The essential nature of ordained priesthood that distinguishes it from baptism is that the ordained priest acts ‘in the person of Christ’ (in Latin: in persona Christi) or stands in the place of Christ, especially when he presides at the celebration of the Mass and when he absolves sin. This is not to deny Christ’s presence in the people assembled.
Crucially, ordination to the priesthood brings about a change in the character of the man being ordained. This means that the priest, whose person is conformed or moulded to Christ, becomes ‘another Christ’ (in Latin: alter Christus). The priest is called to imitate the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock. The priest is charged with the task of knowing, loving and caring for those who have been entrusted to his pastoral care.
Being a priest can sometimes be difficult. This is not to suggest that other vocations, for example, to married life or to religious life, have no problems. They most certainly do. The life of a priest requires faith, permanent commitment, prayer and humility. It is about self-sacrifice and total service of God and his people. But it is also a rewarding and fulfilling way of life.
Priests share in and help to make sense of the joyful and sad occasions in people’s lives. They regularly have opportunities to share Christ’s healing and life-giving power with people so that life can be more meaningful. They teach people to be faithful to the Good News so that they are like sheep who follow Jesus the Lord who is the Good Shepherd.
No priest is perfect. Like all people, priests are always being called to conversion. We live in a society where confusion abounds and in a Church where many members are disillusioned. We need priests today more than ever because our world is crying out for signs of hope and God’s presence in many situations that have become distressing and futile.
There is still much work to be done in building the kingdom of God in our world. Priests are absolutely necessary for this task. It is time for us to pray more fervently for the priests that we have and for more vocations to the ordained priesthood. It may even be time for some of us to consider pursuing the priestly vocation or, perhaps, re-imaging the model of priesthood.
Fr Donal Neary, S.J
Follow in Love
The first big moment of vocation is baptism. The anointing of chrism at baptism might be called the anointing for vocation.
The baptismal vocation is for witness, love and service. This is expressed in ways in which people live out their baptism in married life, single life – and within the single life, maybe religious life or priesthood.
Our active witness is to the life and the values of Jesus in our lives. Teaching is not itself a vocation, for example, but the way we teach is a way of living out our vocation. It is the same with many of the helping professions and employments. Being a good neighbour can be a living out of our vocation.
We witness to love in marriage, in family, extended family, and in friendship. Any love is a sharing in the love of God. In the moments of unselfish love in any relationship we are living out our vocation. When we love, we are doing God’s will!
We witness to service in the wider world in our care for the poor and in welcoming the stranger.
to work in your world.
Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel is Jesus’ “Good Shepherd” discourse. In today’s Gospel reading, two kinds of sheepfolds or corrals are mentioned: In the community or town sheepfold, the real shepherd was recognized by the gatekeeper and his flock knew his voice and followed; out in the fields, the shepherd slept across the corral opening – his body became the corral gate. Both “gates” are beautiful images of the Redeeming Christ, the “Good Shepherd” who lays down his own life to become the very source of life for his people.
When our spirits ache over what has been lost, when we lose our moral and ethical way, when we feel our footing slip beneath us as we try to navigate life’s twists and turns, Christ’s voice can always be heard above the noise and din our lives if we listen for it with hope, conviction and faith.
Sometimes we look at the Gospel from our modern, sophisticated perspective and quietly dismiss what Jesus says as too unrealistic or too simplistic to deal with the complex problems we must face. But there is no high- tech, comfortable, convenient road to living the Gospel of forgiveness, compassion and justice. “To have life to the full” demands that we journey by way of the “gate” of Gospel wisdom, charity, reconciliation, compassion and justice.
The minister responded slowly and cautiously at first, measuring his words, weighing their risk, a man unaccustomed to candor among relative strangers. But as he gained confidence, he spoke of his church’s struggle through hardship and persecution under the Communist regime.
He told about the days under totalitarianism, how the church was officially tolerated but always undermined and repressed, how the clergy were always monitored by secret agents who had infiltrated their ranks.
“We would have a meeting about some matter of church business,” he recalled, “knowing for certain that not everyone seated at the table could be trusted; some of the ‘clergy’ present were, in fact, government agents.”
The pastor paused for a moment and then added, “But even though these government spies were careful never to betray their true identities, we could always tell who they were.”
“But how?” someone asked.
“The voice,” he replied. ‘The voice. Something in their voices would give them away.”
Fr. Jude Botelho:
In today’s first reading Peter contrasts what God did to Jesus with what the people did to Him, they crucified Him. The hearers moved to guilt ask, "What must we do?" Peter's answer was to reform, repent and be baptized. Those who heard Peter realized they could no longer believe and act as they once did. In accepting Peter's message today, we too must make the changes in our lives that reflect the One whose rule we follow. What is God asking of me right now? Listening with faith demands a response or else the Word is rendered impotent in our lives.
Repentance –admission of guilt
One day Frederick William I visited a prison in Postdam and listened to a number of pleas for pardon from prisoners who had grievances against the law’s injustice. All said they had suffered imprisonment on account of prejudiced judges, perjured witnesses, and unscrupulous lawyers. From cell to cell the tale of wronged innocence continued, until the king stopped at the door of a cell inhabited by a surly inmate who said nothing. Surprised by his silence Frederick said jocularly, “Well, I suppose you are innocent too.” “No, your Majesty”, was the startling response. “I am guilty and richly deserve all that I get.” The king shouted at the jail authorities and asked them to do something urgently. “Come and get rid of this rascal quick”. The prisoner who admitted his guilt showed potential for improvement. The others were not likely to change.
G. Francis Xavier in ‘The World’s Best Inspiring Stories’
In today's gospel, Jesus adds to his previous images of himself, of being both the Shepherd and the gate of Life. During the time of Jesus there were two kinds of pens, the common village pen and the field pen. In the first half of the gospel he alludes to the common village pen. He refers to the early morning routine when the shepherd came to the village pen to get his flock and lead it out to pasture. As a good shepherd he calls each one by name. Among the Hebrews, sheep were most often raised for wool and for milk, consequently the animals became like pets, part of the household, each having their own individuality. Those of us who have household pets may understand the intimate bond between the shepherd and his sheep. Minding the sheep was not a business but a life. The shepherd did not see the sheep as a flock but as an extended family, where everyone is important. Basically what the passage communicates to us is the personal care and concern of Jesus, the caring shepherd. In the second half of today's Gospel Jesus refers to himself as the sheep-gate, which refers to the field pen and specifically he refers to the narrow opening in the pen through which the sheep passed. Jesus says: "I am the gate for the sheep." What does Jesus wish to tell us when he says He is the door of the sheepfold? In today's world we are more and more conscious of security and safety and we make sure that our doors are well bolted and secure. In Jesus' time it was not the gate of the sheepfold that was important, it was the person, the shepherd, who lay across the gate provided security and protection to the sheep by being the door. In that sense the role of the shepherd as the doorway was crucial to the sheep. Jesus is crucial to the believer. He is the gate, the guardian who protects us from harm. He is the door, the one who provides us passage to the Father, He is the one who is the gateway to the fullness of life. It is only through Him that we can have the fullness of life
“I am the gate”
In his book 'The Holy Land', John Kelman describes a field pen. It consists of a circular stone wall about four feet high with an opening in it. Kelman says that one day a Holy land tourist saw a field pen near Hebron. He asked a shepherd sitting nearby, "Where's the gate for your pen?" The shepherd said, "I am the gate." The shepherd then told the tourist how he herded his flock into the pen each night and then lay down across the entrance. No sheep could leave the pen and no wild animal could enter it, without stepping over his body.
"This was included in the tickets!"
There was once a family that had fallen on hard times when business failed and they lost almost everything. One day a kind-hearted neighbour came to enquire if there was anything that he, and the other neighbours, could do to help. The father said he would dearly love to take his wife and children and land somewhere in the US, where they would have a chance to start a completely new life. The neighbour agreed to consult his friends and see what they could do. Several months later they presented the family with tickets for a journey by sea from Cobh to New York. The family had never been out of the country before, and had no idea how best to prepare for such a voyage. With their home-spun pragmatism, they bought bread, last week's bread, which was stale but cheap. They got lettuce and cheese and filled several boxes with sandwiches. Armed with this and their few possessions, they went aboard, and they all moved into one cabin, a frightened, insecure little bunch. On the first day, second, and third day, when they were hungry, they ate sandwiches. On the fourth, fifth, and sixth day, the sandwiches were beginning to go off, and the very thought of sandwiches was enough to add to the sea sicknesses most were experiencing. With a day or two to go before arriving in New York, one young lad was so hungry and so sick that he begged his parents to let him have a penny or two, so that he could go up on the deck and buy a few sweets. The father gave him a few pence and off he went. An hour later, he had not returned, and his family was really worried. The father reluctantly left the safety of the cabin and ventured on deck in search of his son. When he got up on deck he just couldn't believe his eyes. There were rows and rows of tables, with a huge crowd sitting around them, eating a meal. In the middle of them was his son, with a plate piled high with chicken, potatoes and vegetables, and he was drinking a large glass of coke. He was stuffing himself with sheer delight and didn't notice his father coming up behind him. The father was shocked and growled under his breath "Why have you done such a stupid thing? You know we cannot afford this." The young lad's eyes lit up, as he turned to his dad and said "But daddy, we could have had this everyday. This was included with the tickets." Imagine someone arriving in heaven, looking around and expressing amazement at the beauty and joy of it all. Jesus turns to such a person and says "But you could have had this all the time. This was included with the tickets."
Knowing his voice
A few years ago, a friend and I were driving across the Navajo Nation to visit Steven Plummer, Episcopal bishop of Navajo Land, when we came upon a flock of sheep grazing near the road. My friend asked me to stop and take a photograph of her with the sheep. As soon as she got out of the car, the sheep moved away, and, as she walked toward them, they again moved farther from the road. They would not let her get anywhere close enough for my camera to get both her and the sheep in the same frame. They did not know her or her voice and stayed safely far away.
John Newton was the son of an English Sea captain. When he was only ten his mother died and he went to sea with his father. At 17 he rebelled against his father, left his ship and began living a wild life. Eventually John took a job on a cargo ship that carried slaves from Africa to America. He was promoted rapidly and soon became captain of the ship. Newton never worried whether slave trade was right or wrong. One night a violent storm blew up at sea and the waves grew to the size of mountains. They picked up Newton’s ship and threw it around like a toy. Everyone on board was filled with panic. Then Newton did something he had never done since leaving his father’s ship. He prayed. Shouting at the top of his voice he said, “God, if you will only save us, I promise to be your slave forever.” God heard his prayer and the ship survived. When Newton reached land, he kept his promise and quit the slave trade. Later he studied in the seminary and was ordained pastor of a small church in Olney, England. There he won fame as a preacher and composer of hymns. One of the most moving hymns Newton wrote is the one that praised God for his conversion. The words read: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see….”
Adapted from Al Rogers’ story of John Newton
Watching over them
Cheryl Cassidy was a registered nurse. One afternoon she arrived at the Arts centre to pick her daughter Rachael from her dance lesson. She usually used to run another errand before picking up her daughter –procure milk. On that day as she turned that corner, she changed her mind and did not go to the milk booth. This decision saved her daughter’s life and eight other lives. Instead of waiting in the car as she usually did, that day she went into the dance studio. There she found her daughter along with eight others overcome by carbon-monoxide poisoning. With the help of the family across the street she was able to pull out each one out of the building and revive them. Later referring to the watchfulness of God, Cheryl very finely concluded: “Somebody was watching out for these girls besides me.”
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’
We applaud when a man or woman gives his or her life for another. Such instances do come along from time to time. Murfreesboro, Tennessee. May 28, 1989: "Former NFL football player Jerry Anderson," read the newspaper account, "died Saturday after pulling two young boys out of a rain-swollen river about 40 miles southeast of Nashville. Witnesses said Anderson saw two boys, thought to be 11 or 12 years old, attempting to cross a dam spanning the river. One or both boys fell into the water. According to Officer Bill Todd, ‘Mr. Anderson jumped in the water and managed to get the little boys out, but witnesses said he went under two or three times and about the fourth time, he didn't come back up.’" He gave his life to rescue two small boys. Of course, you don't have to be an American or a football player for such heroic actions. In a Middle school in the Ukrainian village of Ivanichi a young teacher died sometime back. He absorbed the blast of a hand grenade to protect his pupils. What was a grenade doing in a middle school? According to the London Times, the teacher, a graduate of the KGB border guard college, had been delivering the military instruction that is a compulsory part of the curriculum for Soviet children. He was teaching them how to handle what should have been an unarmed grenade. When he pulled the pin a wisp of smoke showed that a live grenade had become mixed in with demonstration grenades, and he gave his life. You don't have to be a man to perform such heroics. Many years ago a woman carrying a baby through the hills of South Wales, England, was overtaken by a blizzard. Searchers found her later frozen to death in the snow. Amazed that she had on no outer garments, they searched further and found her baby. She had wrapped them around the child, who was still alive and well. He grew up to be David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Great Britain in World War I.
That old man knows the Shepherd
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'
Jack McArdle in 'And that's the gospel truth'
Mark Link in 'Decision'
Look at the picture Jesus gives us here in John 10: This wonderful vivid portrait of a shepherd caring for his sheep. The shepherd would lead his sheep out to distant areas and stay there for days. Being a good shepherd he created a temporary corral, a pen to keep the sheep in when they were not grazing. Using the crude stones of the field a shepherd could quickly put together such a structure and at night he would lay his body down in the opening of this corral making himself the door. No sheep could wonder away at night unless it stepped over the sleeping shepherd and no wolf could come in to do harm without waking the shepherd. He is the gate.
Do you see what is happening here? More than any other duty the goal of the shepherd is to protect the sheep. This is how you know a good shepherd from a bad shepherd. Does the Shepherd. . .does the leader have the best interest of his people at heart? How do you know that he or she is a good shepherd? You know by looking at the sheep.
Looking at Jesus' teaching here in John 10 I want to ask a few questions and see what the answers might be?
1. What are the needs of the sheep?
2. What are the traits of a bad shepherd?
3. What are the traits of a good shepherd?
Can we imagine how violated that couple felt? When they spoke again to the guard at the gate he told of how a guard had been on duty all through the night but the thieves did not enter by the gate. Instead they scaled a fence on the far side of the parking lot and did their work under cover of darkness. Thieves violate the common trust of the neighborhoods and communities they rob. They steal not only car radios or whatever else they choose to take, they also create emotional turmoil for the people in those neighborhoods and communities. Jesus says, "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit" (v. 1).
Come with me to one of the most moving and inviting chapters in the entire Bible. John chapter 10 is also one of the most beloved passages in all the scriptures. The teaching in this chapter reminds us of some of the parables that Matthew, Mark, and Luke record in their gospels. However, there is one glaring difference and we find it in verse 6 where John calls these words from the Lord's lips a "figure of speech." It is an allegory not a parable. Jesus is not talking about violated cars here but about something far more important and vital....
George Adam Smith, the 19th century biblical scholar tells of traveling one day in the holy land and coming across a shepherd and his sheep. He fell into conversation with him and the man showed him the fold into which the sheep were led at night. It consisted of four walls, with a way in. Smith asked him, "This is where they go at night?" "Yes," said the shepherd, "and when they are in there, they are perfectly safe." "But there is no door," said Smith. "I am the door," said the shepherd. He was not a Christian man and wasn't speaking in the language of the New Testament. He was speaking from an Arab shepherd's viewpoint. Smith looked and him and asked, "What do you mean you are the door?" "When the light has gone," said the shepherd, "and all the sheep are inside, I lie in that open space, and no sheep ever goes out but across my body, and no wolf comes in unless he crosses my body; I am the door."
George Adam Smith
Today's society presents us with many choices and possibilities that only seem to grow more numerous with time and the "advance" of culture. They say that "variety is the spice of life" and I suspect it is true. Yet, the many choices that stand before us can be confusing. We need to learn how to wisely use the gift of free will, our ability to choose. This gift, if used constructively, can provide much good for our world, but if abused it can create untold grief.
Wisdom dictates that in order to use our gift of free will wisely, we must ask ourselves some important questions concerning how well we follow Jesus, the shepherd and gatekeeper, in the decisions we make. What are the criteria that we use to make the important decisions of our lives? Do we seek out family and friends, colleagues and associates? What place does God have in our decision making process? What responsibility do we feel for those God has entrusted to us? Young people, students, or subordinates at work all look to elders and superiors to lead them. By following our lead will people find the pasture of life or are we leading people astray by the conduct of our lives? What choices have we made lately? Were they helpful and did they aid us along the path of life or were they destructive? If they were harmful, did we have the courage to change and make a better choice? When we make decisions are they based solely on our needs and wants or do we consider the desires of others?
If we find ourselves in positions of authority, do we make choices that are beneficial to all or are we selfish in our choices? Jesus' life demonstrates that suffering is part of the Christian life. Are we willing to make the decision that may cause suffering because it is the right choice, or do we shy away because we are afraid to endure a crisis for the sake of Christ's name?
Richard E. Gribble, CSC, Sermons For Sundays: In Lent And Easter: Building Our Foundation On God, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
High in the mountains of North Wales in a place called Llanymawddwy, lives a shepherd named John Jones with his wife Mari and his black and white dog Mack. I stood one misty summer morning in the window of their farmhouse watching John on horseback herding the sheep with Mack. A few cows were quietly chewing their cud in a nearby corner while perhaps a hundred sheep moved across the dewy meadow toward the pens where they were to be dipped.
Mack, a champion Scottish collie, was in his glory. He came from a long line of working dogs, and he had sheep in his blood. This was what he was made for, this was what he had been trained to do. And it was a marvelous thing to see him circling to the right, circling to the left, barking, crouching, racing along, herding a stray sheep here, nipping at a stubborn one there, his eyes always glued to the sheep, his ears listening for the tiny metal whistle from his master, which I couldn't hear.
Mari took me to the pens to watch what John had to do there. When all the animals had been shut inside the gates, Mack tore around the outside of the pens and took up his position at the dipping trough, frantic with expectation, waiting for the chance to leap into action again. One by one John seized the rams by their curled horns and flung them into the antiseptic. They would struggle to climb out the side, and Mack would snarl and snap at their faces to force them back in. Just as they were about to climb up the ramp at the far end, John caught them by the horns with a wooden implement, spun them around, and held them -- ears, eyes, and nose submerged for a few seconds . . . .
When the rams had been dipped, John rode out again on his horse to herd the ewes which were in a different pasture. Again I watched with Mari as John and Mack went to work, the one in charge, the other obedient. Sometimes, tearing at top speed around the flock, Mack would jam on four-wheeled brakes, his eyes blazing but still on the sheep, his body tense and quivering, but obedient to the command to stop. What the shepherd saw the dog could not see -- the weak ewe that lagged behind, the one caught in a bush, the danger that lay ahead for the flock.
"Do the sheep have any idea what's happening?" I asked Mari.
"Not a clue!" she said.
I once knew someone who was a leader in the congregation. At one time or another he had filled most (if not all) of the important leadership positions in that church. More than that, however, oftentimes he was the one who would volunteer for those tough, dirty jobs that no one else wanted: washing dishes after a potluck supper, helping to teach the confirmation class, stacking shelves at the food bank.
This is the kind of person you would like to clone and with whom you'd like to fill the congregation, right? Wrong! This person was a delight to have around until things didn't go his way, and then he was a nightmare: disruptive, divisive, even destructive. He didn't understand the meaning of community and was not a team player. And when (not for the first time) he and his wife climbed into their huff-mobile and drove away after some disagreement, the congregation finally had the good sense not to beg them to come back. Finally that congregation had learned to distinguish between the voice of a shepherd and the voice of a stranger.
Verne Arens, (Good) Help Wanted
Once there was an ecumenical crusade that was being held in a large city. Every imaginable denomination was in attendance for this unprecedented event. One afternoon the gathering was in session when all of a sudden a secretary rushed in shouting, "The building's on fire! The building's on fire!" Confusion reigned as each church group came together and did what came natural:
The Methodists gathered in the corner to pray. The Baptists cried, "Where's the water?" The Quakers quietly praised God for the blessings that fire brings. The Lutherans posted a notice on the door declaring that the fire was evil. The Roman Catholics passed a plate to cover the damages. The Unitarians reasoned that the fire would burn itself out if just given the chance. The Congregationalists shouted, "Every man for himself." The Fundamentalists proclaimed, "It's the vengeance of God." The Episcopalians formed a procession and marched out. The Christian Scientists concluded that there was no real fire. The Presbyterians appointed a chairperson to appoint a committee to look into the matter and make a written report.
And the church secretary grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the fire out.
Tom Lacey, Unleashing the Lord in Your Life
The pastor of a rich suburban parish was speaking to the Sunday school kids. He told them that as the pastor he was like a shepherd and the members of his congregation were the sheep. He then put this question to them: "What does the shepherd do for the sheep?" A little fellow in the front row raised his hands and answered, "He fleeces them." True enough, shepherds go into the business for the purpose of fleecing, milking and feeding on the sheep. But when the Bible speaks of the leaders of God's people as shepherds, it envisions leaders who feed, protect and feel with the people as a good shepherd does for his flock.
Fr. Munachi Ezeogu, Jesus, the Good Shepherd
Isn't it amazing how sometimes we get all tangled up with the words we speak and end up not being clear about what we're trying to say? Back when I was in high school I had a poster that read, "I know you think you understand what I said, but what you don't understand is that what I said wasn't what I meant." Are you ever misunderstood? I've noticed that it happens everywhere, at work, at home, at school. Believe it or not, it even happens at church.
Every so often, Abigail Van Buren in her column, Dear Abby, runs a list of church bulletin misprints and church sign bloopers that prove that we in the church occasionally have problems saying what we mean. Here are some recent ones:
The bulletin of a church in Iowa announced: The Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday from 7 to 8:30p.m. Please use the back door.
Another church's bulletin carried this announcement: Due to the Pastor's illness, Wednesday's healing services will be discontinued until further notice.
During a service one preacher made this announcement: "This being Easter Sunday, we will now ask Mr. Vassilas to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.
Another church newsletter had this: At the evening service tonight, the topic will be "What is Hell?" Come early and hear our choir practice.
Not to pick on the choir, but an announcement in one church read: Eight new choir robes are currently needed, due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.
In today's Scripture we find that even Jesus sometimes had trouble speaking clearly enough for people to get what he was saying. Did you notice? Jesus is trying to make a point using symbolic figures of speech that his listeners just don't get. The images he uses of sheepfolds, thieves, gates and gatekeepers were very familiar to these people, and yet, they didn't understand.
Steve Jackson, The Power to Change Your Life
For years St. Anthony's Catholic Church in San Francisco has served meals to people in need. Over the doorway to its dining room the church has posted a sign bearing the inscription: Caritate Dei. One day a young mechanic, just released from jail and new to St. Anthony's, entered the door and sat down for a meal. A woman was busy cleaning the adjoining table. "When do we get on our knees and do the chores, lady?" he asked.
"You don't," she replied. "Then when's the sermon comin'?" he inquired.
The man was suspicious. "Then what's the gimmick?" The woman pointed to the inscription over the door. He squinted at the sign....