Many of us may know this simple chant: “Open our ears Lord, help us to hear your voice, open our ears, Lord, help us to hear!”
The metaphor of sheep and shepherd is repeatedly referenced in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. In September of 2014, Sister Margaret Anderson and I went on a guided tour of the southeast coast of Ireland. One of the highlights of the tour for me was a visit to a modern sheep farm. It was late afternoon as we watched the sheep grazing in the vast pasture land. The chief shepherd blew a whistle in his own unique way and a Border Collie jumped swiftly into action gathering the sheep from multi-directions into one fold and then guided them up the hill to a large fenced-in pen. The whole process was done in a gentle, mutually cooperative manner. The sheep/shepherd dog remained protectively vigilant directly outside the pen. I, like many others, thought sheep were stupid. I learned firsthand that, although they are timid and defenseless against predators, they are by nature docile, and very trusting creatures, who mind their own business grazing the land. A shepherd protects sheep from predators, the environment, and themselves. Unlike cows who only eat the blades of grass, sheep tend to eat the roots. Once the roots are consumed, grass no longer grows, which puts the plant and animals future in jeopardy. The shepherd responsibly rotates the flock so they don’t overgraze the pasture and reseeds the soil. This sparked an ‘ah- ha’ moment for me, realizing how many of us human sheep/shepherds continue to collude in unsustainable agricultural practices, reliance on toxic energy sources, polluting Earth’s soil, air, and water as well as many other things to undermine Earth’s ability to sustain us. The Good Shepherd, Jesus, is speaking His voice today through shepherds like Pope Francis, ecologists, eco-spirituality promoters, environmental activists anyone saying “stop overconsuming the roots that sustain us!”
This Sunday’s brief Gospel passage is preceded by all of John, chapter 10 which is Jesus’ confrontational response to the Pharisees that they have failed and been unfaithful in their role as shepherds. They knew the Scriptures well and would recall Ezekiel Ch.34 as Jesus reframed the familiar metaphor.
“Thus says the Lord God: Ah you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not the shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the sheep, you have not strengthen the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.” Jesus tells the Pharisees how he will fulfill His role as Good Shepherd by basically doing what they failed to do. Jesus also says he has other sheep not from the Jewish fold. “I will care for them also and they listen to my voice. No one will ever snatch this (inclusive believing group) of all nations from me.” Jn.10:31-39 reveals the temple leaders attempt to stone and arrest Jesus but “He eludes their grasp”
In this week’s reading from Acts:13: 43-52 Paul and Barnabas speaking to Jews in the Synagogue, urge them to continue their enthusiasm in following Jesus. Crowds come to hear them the following week and jealous temple officials shout contradictions at Paul.Paul reminds them that they rejected the Word of God spoken to them first and the Gentiles are delighted to hear the Word and believe. The officials incited the prominent and powerful people of the city to persecute Paul and Barnabas .Full of joy and the Holy Spirit Paul and Barnabas shake the dust from their shoes and move on to greener pastures. This so resonates with the response of many of our Church Leaders (shepherds?) and rich and famous Sunday worshippers to Pope Francis’s consistent preaching, teaching and modeling of Jesus the Good Shepherd and Lamb of God.(Reflect on his Laudato Si –Praise Be and The Joy of Love). Our reading from Revelation today assures us that the multitude of believers from every nation who have suffered the great ordeal (persecution for promoting loving right –relationship with all beings) will come before the Jesus the Lamb, who as our Good Shepherd will shelter, nourish, wipe away our tears and guide us to the water of life eternal.
In a nutshell, we’re good shepherds/sheep if we‘re willing to risk: “smelling like sheep” (Pope Francis), having “green brains, dodging the stones of adversity and sustaining a joyful spirit in laying down our lives for the Kin-dom.