Sunday, 7 May 2017

Don't be a stranger


Gospel John 10:1-10 
Jesus said: ‘I tell you most solemnly, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers.’

Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to them.
So Jesus spoke to them again:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
I am the gate of the sheepfold.
All others who have come
are thieves and brigands;
but the sheep took no notice of them.
I am the gate.
Anyone who enters through me will be safe:
he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.’




Christianity is about discipleship; which strangely translates as being a sheep...and whilst I'm not very keen on being compared to a sheep  maybe that's my lesson in humility. 

Jesus used the culture of his time to teach about discipleship. We laugh at the thought of being sheep but we all know that the devotion of animals to their masters can't be overstated. And, at the time, it was sheep that portrayed this. Sheep are devoted to their shepherd and to each other; they know each others fears and sees the flock, the community, as the most important thing in the world. The shepherd knows that keeping them close - from birth, through first steps and brave leaps; by words and whistle and songs and midnight stories under starry skies - that those sheep become his; bleating hearts and shaggy souls. When they are lost - it is the end of the world - the bleating of a lost sheep would drive you mad. 

After the weeks of fearful discipleship, the Church takes us back in time with a reminder of why we are not meant to be fearful. When I was little this week was called Good Shepherd Sunday and we would pray for vocations for the Missions fearing for the souls of those who had not heard the Good News. These days we simply pray for vocations. 

At a recent Chrism Mass, Pope Francis made this statement;

“The priest who seldom goes out of himself … misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. … This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in a sense collectors of antiquities or novelties — instead of being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep.’ This is what I am asking you — be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”

 In Francis' book, 'The Church of Mercy', he directs this same idea with more fervour to those who are our 'teachers, priests and shepherds'.
So it isn't just vocation - it is the dedication and stamina to see the vocation through. Francis talks about the need to 'stay put' with the flock, to walk with it, before and behind it. 

Those who have taken on the promises of Peter may have every reason to avoid the long road. Jesus knew what he was doing when he chose the shepherd for a symbol - there is very little to be envious of. 

As the seasons pass, liturgical and natural, there is a real sense of the eternal, circling, renewal - tasks of shearing, birthing, feeding and watering, healing, letting go of the sick, seeking the lost - there is no 'once and for all'.  

It's not one parish family, but many, that will pass through from cradle to grave. And among the many undoubted joys; all those issues that get dealt with only to arise elsewhere; conflicts brought to reconciliation in one place and bubbling beneath the surface somewhere else; having to decide whose priority is the priority. 

Going to bed with other people's problems doesn't allow for a quiet night. 

And it's not only the ordained priests, surely any one of us, involved in the slightest of ministries, could imagine the role of shepherd with a 'flock' of our own? And sometime, get weary of what the role asks of us.


The strange thing is, we may think we are shepherds, but we are, at best, responsible sheep. 

There is only one Good Shepherd, Jesus, and we are all listening out for his  voice and watching out for his footprints. 

Within the flock, we may have better ears or eyes, a better gift for sensing danger, a nose for the best pasture, a head for heights, a natural maternal instinct, an enthusiastic gang leader. 

Nevertheless, we are all sheep. 

And sheep are healthy, happy and secure when they not alone.

This way, Francis' advice makes far more sense. 

To be satisfied with what you do - be part of who you are. 



wordinthehand2017