As a child, Jesus would never have said this about himself: “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus is saying this when he’s in his early 30s. But as a child, Jesus would never have thought of himself as “the good shepherd.” He was not a shepherd: good, bad, or indifferent. At least there’s no record in the scriptures that he ever kept sheep. It would never have occurred to him to think that he was “the good shepherd.” As a child, Jesus would have learned and prayed Psalm 23 in the same way that we have: “The Lord is my shepherd.”[i] The Lord was his shepherd. He would have known Psalm 78, about the good shepherding of God for his people: [The Lord] brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the wilderness.”[ii] The God whom Jesus called “Lord” was the good shepherd.[iii] In a land where sheep abound – their wool to make blankets and clothing; their meat for the daily diet – metaphors about sheep and shepherds would be in common parlance. In the scriptures, there are more than 300 references to sheep and shepherds. Jesus would have known about sheep, and the Lord being his shepherd, but he was no shepherd.
At a young age, Jesus would also have known that ancient Israel’s kings, beginning with King David, were known as shepherds of the nation. Clearly, Jesus was no such shepherd-king. He certainly did not appear royal. He grew up in Nazareth and the reputation was that nothing good could come out of Nazareth. We are not even sure if Jesus was employed. So what happened? When did Jesus’ sense of identity shift. Why did he come to understand himself as a shepherd, a good shepherd, and identify with the Good Shepherd? Why and how? We know some things for sure, and other influences we can conjecture. Just like for all the rest of us, many things influence us. A whole collage of things form, or deform, or reform the tapestry of our calling in life – our vocation. So it was for Jesus. Something evolved in his identifying with shepherds. What happened?
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Ordination of Luke Ditewig SSJE to the priesthood
I want first to begin by acknowledging those of you who have joined us today online. We Brothers are delighted to share this important day in the life of our community with you. We are of course, sorry that you cannot be with us here in person. It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway because it is important, we long for the day when it will be possible for you to be here in this chapel with us. Please know that we pray for you often. Your physical absence from our life of worship is a tremendous loss for us. We pray that the day when we can once again open our chapel doors to you, will come soon.
There are two people whom I particularly want to say how sorry we are that you cannot be with us today, and on Tuesday when Luke presides at the Eucharist for the first time, and that’s Luke’s Mum and Dad, Sandy, and Bill. After having watched Luke come to this point in his life, not to be here with him, is I am sure a great sadness. I hope that being here, if only virtually, is some consolation.
I also want to extend our gratitude to you Bishop Alan, for the care you have taken to enable this ordination to take place. Those watching online will note that we are all taking care to keep our distance from one another. That is not an indication of our regard for you. Rather the opposite! Please know how grateful we are, for the steps you have taken this past week to assure our mutual safety.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…”
Several years ago, Br. David Vryhof and I spent a week living with a shepherd in the Pacific northwest at this time of year, which is lambing season. One night we watched a ewe give birth to a 13-pound lamb. In a matter of minutes – we counted 8 minutes – the newborn lamb was standing up on all fours and had begun to nurse. Absolutely miraculous, incredibly adorable. But sheep are also a real mess. The ewe which had just given birth to a lamb licked the little lamb from head-to-toe. There’s some kind of innate bonding going on here between mother and lamb. Very moving to see. The lamb is also being cleansed from the birthing fluids that completely cover its fleece. No sooner we had a clean lamb, than the little newborn rolled and rolled in the mud, “happy as a lamb,” as they say, and now completely filthy. Our friend, the shepherd, chuckled and said, that’s just what they do. He knows his sheep, and his sheep know him. Quite.
O my God, you are here… but always you are where we are, and always you love us, calling us each by name. Amen.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday Jesus tells us that he “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Well, that’s a metaphor, no matter what sheep-like sounds we might make at odd moments or how much we might sometimes behave like sheep. It’s still a metaphor. We’re not sheep. I feel quite confident about that as an unequivocal statement. But though we are not sheep, we do respond to this picture of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. We respond because he says he has come so that we might “have life, and have it abundantly.” God really wants us to get the most out of life. If we love life, if we choose life, we respond with joy to the one whose deepest desire is to give us life in abundance. If we do not love life, if we choose death, then we respond more readily to the enemy of the Good Shepherd, the thief, who Jesus says, “Comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”