May 6, 2017

Shepherd Good and True

Third Week of Easter


Not to be mistaken as a gathering of nuns on a day out, or a group of young gentlemen wearing tuxedos, I want you to think of penguins! Read penguins - those affable, wobbly  flightless birds, who dive into the arctic waters and jump out of holes in the ice with mouthfuls of fish.


But I’ve often wondered when I’ve seen images of thousands of penguins all huddled together on some Antarctic background, how do you tell them apart? But more particular, after the breeding season and there are equally thousands of young chicks who have not ventured into the waters to feed themselves, how do the parent penguins, returning to a penguin colony of thousands, be able to tell who’s who. Not only that, a returning parent with a mouthful of fish must be able to recognise their own chick and ignore all the thousands of other youngsters who are all indiscriminately crying out for food.


It seems, that, soon after birth, the parents have bonded so intimately with their young, that even when they leave them to search for food and later return to the thousands who are assembled on the edge of the icy water, the parent is able to distinguish, not by sight (that would be impossible), but by careful listening, the unique pitch and tone of their own offspring amid all the thousands of hungry squeals of chicks nervous and afraid that they have been abandoned.  No so.


By way of a similar image, our Lord assures us that, not only has He his eye on up, but that even if we should be lost in the valley of darkness, He can always find us. We will never be lost. He knows us personally, intimately. We are not just a huge mass of a flock. He knows each of us by name, what is hidden in our hearts, our hopes, fears and dreams and anxieties of life.  He is a shepherd, Who not only knows His flock. He knows, cares for, loves and is protective of each and every one of us Whom He knows, not by number, but by name.


Usually we call this Sunday after Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday. Indeed, Christ is the Good Shepherd. And that image of Him as such has inspired the most beautiful images and songs, poems and painting. But we should be careful not to stop there. Just because someone appears good, or brings us comfort and calms our fears, does not necessarily mean that we open our mouths and allow ourselves to be fed. Could one not deceive a vulnerable lamb that they are indeed a good Shepherd, and gently lure them away from the protection of the family by the sweetness of tender words, with promises of comfort and security? Might we not take a liking to a shepherd who showed himself as strong and mighty, chasing off the enemy with a show of strength and we would remark with relief that he was indeed a “good shepherd”?

Even throughout the political history of Israel, many individuals, from kings to politicians, from military commanders to revolutionaries, had at various times proclaimed themselves as good shepherds who were to lead their people to freedom. Christ calls them thieves and robbers! Instead of feeding the flock with true food, they themselves feed off the fears and vulnerabilities of others.  They are quickly unmasked and abandoned when we see their true colors and agenda.


Instead, He puts Himself forward, not simply as the Good Shepherd. He goes further. He presents Himself as the “True Shepherd”. Anyone can present themselves as a “good shepherd”. But Christ is only the Good Shepherd because He alone is the True Shepherd. How can you tell? Listen to His voice. Christ’s voice not only speaks the truth, but His voice, even if we do not fully understand it without minds, His voice reaches into the heart and soul. And we know, in our heart of hearts that we must follow Him, trust Him and love Him, even when we are still hungry and afraid. The True Shepherd will always keep His promises, and will even lay down His life, because He is a man of His Word.

And what is His Promise and His Word to us? “I have come that you may have life, and life abundantly”.  Here in this Eucharist, we call out to God who hears us, hears you and me crying out from the depth of our hearts and souls, “Feed me with everlasting life”. He responds to us most intimately through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, not only as a Good Shepherd who feeds us, but the True Shepherd who dares to nourish us with His own sacrificial Body and Blood. Because the Lord alone is my shepherd, there is nothing else I shall want, no-one else who hears me when I call, knows where I am, what I need, where I belong." Call to Him and you will be saved!  

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