Sunday, 21 April 2013
4th Sunday of Easter, Year C, Good Shepherd Sunday, Shaftesbury
Those of us who live in the country, as we do here, sometimes get puzzled by the description we just heard from the Lord Jesus about how sheep know their shepherd’s voice and follow it (Jn 10:27). He made the statement even more explicitly a few verses earlier: “the sheep follow [their shepherd], for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers”(Jn 10:4-5).
Now, such words might fool those city boys in London, who get no closer to sheep than seeing fluffy white dots out a train window. But for you and I who daily walk through the fields here about, we are bound to stop and say, “I’ve seen a lot of sheep in my time. Sheep are stupid. I’ve NEVER seen them recognise a shepherd’s voice” etc.
However, we tend to think this because we actually don’t know sheep as well as we think we do. The way we herd and treat our ENGLISH sheep, in large flocks, rather anonymously, gives them neither motivation nor opportunity to manifest their intelligence. Whereas, in fact, scientific studies have shown that, and I here quote Wikipedia, “Sheep can recognize individual human … faces, and [even] differentiate [human] emotional states, [and] sheep may learn their names and many sheep are trained to be led by halter for showing and other purposes”
So, in ancient Palestine, where flocks were smaller, and shepherds had a more intimate relationship with them and slept out in the fields with them to ward off wolves and other predators, in that context what Our Lord was saying would have seemed obvious to those who heard him.
You didn’t think you’d learn all this about sheep when you came to Mass this morning, did you? But I know many modern English people get puzzled by this, so I think it’s worth commenting on. More directly, let me focus this with a question:
Is your relationship to Christ like an English sheep or like those Palestinian sheep that Jesus spoke about?
And the test is whether we recognise the Shepherd’s voice. It is only those who “listen to my voice” that can be said to “belong to” Him (Jn 10:27).
For you to recognise your Shepherd’s voice you have to be CLOSE to Him. You have to live intimately with Him.
You can choose to be part of a large anonymous flock. As such, your intelligence will never be manifested, you’ll never be trained.
or, you can seek to live close to our Lord, intimate with Him.
We hear the voice of what we are intimate with:
If I am intimate with shopping and buying "nice" things, I will hear the voice of greed.
If I am intimate with myself, then like the stupid English sheep, I will just hear my own sheepy voice -it is the voice of selfishness that I will hear.
If I am intimate with the needs of my family members, then it is their inner voice I will hear even before they speak it.
If I am intimate with the needs of others, in general, then the voice of generosity will be readily heard by me -generosity calling me to love more freely, more givingly, more cheerfully. To not love with a slow grudging heart.
And, integrating it all:
If I am intimate with The Lord in His teaching, and in prayer, especially prayer at the start and close of the day, then it is HIS voice I will be able to hear.
And with such intimacy we shall be like trained intelligent Palestinian sheep, hearing and recognising our Shepherd’s voice.