May 7, 2006 - Year B - Easter 4
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. 12 Not so the hired hand or any other person who is not the shepherd and to whom the sheep do not belong. They abandon the sheep as soon as they see the wolf coming; then the wolf snatches and scatters the sheep. 13 This is because the hired hand works for pay and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 as the Father knows me and I know the Father. Because of this I give my life for my sheep.
16 I have other sheep that are not of this fold. These I have to lead as well, and they shall listen to my voice. Then there will be one flock since there is one Shepherd.
17 The Father loves me because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down freely. It is mine to lay down and to take up again: this mission I received from my Father.”
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Thanks to the parable of Jesus, we can imagine one of those sheepfolds in which the flocks of various shepherds are gathered together for the night under the vigilance of one caretaker. At dawn, each calls his sheep and leads them out.
The Bible foretold the day in which God would come to gather together the dispersed sheep of his people, so that they would live in their land. Jesus is the Shepherd and he has come to accomplish what was announced, but he will not do it in the expected way. The Jews thought that the Shepherd would revive their former prosperity: they would again be a privileged nation among other nations.
Jesus says clearly that his people are not to be thought of as identical to the Jewish nation. Those who believe, and only they, are his. He will take from among the Jews those who are his; likewise, he will take sheep from other folds as well (v. 16), that is, from among nations other than the Jewish nation. Therefore, he will lead them all and will guide this flock which is not a nation with land boundaries to where he knows. The only flock (not the only “fold”, as people say), that is, the only Church, moves freely through history, not confined to any one nation or era of civilization.
The shepherds of the Jewish people thought they could achieve unity by promoting national pride, by maintaining the privileges of the “higher” castes, and by discriminating against non-Jews. Jesus unites his people solely by attracting them to himself, by letting people experience who he is. All who are attracted to him, recognize his voice and believe his word are his.
People willingly gather around great figures, whether they be leaders or saints. When a people have neither frontiers, arms, language, nor laws to defend themselves against external and internal dissension, the presence of a Shepherd or leader is even more essential. Faith in Christ unites us far better than does fidelity to traditions of the past or solidarity with co-religionists. Christ’s people are not a mass; it is nor Humanity with a capital H. They are composed of persons who have begun an adventure with Jesus of mutual trust and love. I know them and they will hear my voice (vv. 14 & 16).
When the Bible speaks of the Shepherd, it usually refers to God himself, the only king of Israel, but sometimes means the King-Messiah sent by God. Jesus spoke of only one shepherd. Though distinct from the Father, he is one with him (v. 30).
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1. We do so like to have things cut and dried. That is hard to do in a fold of many flocks. That is hard to do in a population of many personalities and experiences and expectations.
2. When we look for too much clarity, and that is hardly ever a bad thing, we try to find ways to cram the diversity of life into one model. We know there will be bartering and trading. Some sheep will be a part of one flock and then part of another. This goes on in all directions.
With Jesus' flock we hear of those who need to leave and those who can't come along for one reason or another. We hear of those who wander away, unintentionally by misunderstanding directions (looking for a privileged position or fearful of current circumstance) or intentionally to force issues (betrayal).
3. To lay down one's life is also to lay down one's control over it meaning and its control of others. It is in this way that one finally comes to their life, picks it up as a vocation and calling, rather than an expectation or compulsion.
How are you doing with the ambiguities arising from your maturing in faith in response to listening more to your experiences and less to other's expectations?
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