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.”