Today is referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday” the fourth Sunday of Easter. In the gospel reading, we first look at Jesus as the shepherd and then as a gate for the sheep. In this parable, Jesus uses the imagery of sheep, shepherds, thieves and strangers.
Parts of this gospel reminded me of working on a farm, many years ago, while I was on vacation in the west of Ireland. There, I saw the process of how sheepherders worked with sheep on the rugged landscape of their fields.
As soon as lambs are born, they are given their own unique names. As they grow, sheep remember the faces of other sheep and humans who care for them. Over time, sheep develop strong relationships based on trust. It is through this familiarity that they can also identify their sheepherder’s distinctive voice. He is their protection – leading them – always going ahead of them to ensure a safe path.
From birth, lambs instinctively follow older sheep. For protection, sheep find safety in numbers and stick close to one another. When grazing, sheep will keep at least four or five other sheep in their view. They are very social animals, and their instinct is to flock together. If you have ever traveled the narrow roads in Ireland, you may have been caught in a sheep traffic jam!
Sheep have amazing peripheral vision and have the ability to see behind them without turning their head. They rarely walk in a straight line – instead, they move from side to side – and can spot danger from afar.
Sheep may look adorable in children’s books, but in reality, mud, grass and twigs get stuck in their wool. In addition, some farmers paint the backs of their sheep with an identifying strip of blue or red paint in the event they become separated.
You might say that we share a few traits with sheep. In our life, we go astray and sin, and dirt clings to us. We also remember grudges and find it difficult to face those who have hurt us. Throughout our lives, we have built strong relationships with a close circle of people we trust and know best. At times, we dwell on the past instead of walking boldly into the future. In today’s world, it’s easy for us to be swayed by material possessions or influenced by others rather than follow Jesus.
Within this gospel reading, Jesus emphasizes the importance of recognizing the shepherd and the gate. Jesus is the Gate, the way to safety and green pasture. With his life, Jesus protects the sheep – He is the door – He is the safe haven in our dangerous world. The shepherd and the gate work together for the well-being of the sheep, so that the flock thrives.
I can still remember the constant calls by the sheepherder in the fields, years ago. Today, God continues to call each of us by name. In order for us to enter into abundant life, we must enter through the true gate, following the true shepherd’s voice, not that of thieves or strangers.
As we shelter-in-place, let us all take some time to hear God’s voice and listen to what God is calling us to be and to do. As members of the flock of Saint Anne parish, let us stick together at this unprecedented time, support one another and engage with the Catholic Church. Although we are unable to physically attend Mass together and receive the sacraments, we turn toward Jesus to guide and protect us. Let us take this unique time to make our faith a priority and integrate it into every aspect of our lives. Take care!
Mary Ellen Johnston
Director, Care Ministries