Not many of us come into contact with real-life shepherds in 2017. Or the ones we do are more sheep farmers, than herders. In the Western world, at least, gone are the days when young men or even children, would lead a flock of sheep out to a wild or lonely countryside to sit watching them and guarding them while they roamed around grazing from sunrise to sunset. So this passage from John’s Gospel at first glance might not impact us as much as it should.
From what I understand, for thousands of years, when villages raise sheep they are normally kept in a large communal pen each night. Then in the morning, the various shepherds go down to the pen, open the gate and begin to call out or sing to their sheep. Recognizing the voice of their shepherd, only those sheep move to follow their shepherd out the gate to pasture. This is repeated with each shepherd until all of the sheep are separated and taken out for the day. I find this quite amazing.
First of all, sheep are not considered among the world’s most intelligent animals. Some might call them dumb, others might say trusting. But one thing is for sure: they only listen to the voice of their own shepherd. How is this possible? Each day as the sheep are out in the field, the shepherd talks to them, calls out to them and sings to them. As they spend more and more time together and as the weeks and months go by, the sheep become so familiar with the voice of their shepherd that they only follow him.
Whose voice do you and I listen to in our lives? Is Jesus truly our shepherd? Do we spend so much time with Him that we recognize His voice from among all of the other voices calling out to us each day? Do we know Him from a stranger? Or do we spend our days going from one task to another, from one event to another, from one high or low to another, from one drama to another, running here and there so busy and noisy that we are guided by every wind and tossing wave that comes across our paths?
The strangers and thieves of this world come only to “steal and slaughter and destroy”, but Jesus the Good Shepherd offers us the words of abundant life in this world and eternal life in the next. What if we lived our lives each day listening ONLY to Jesus? How would our lives look? What would be different?
I lost my father just a few weeks ago and so these words of abundant and eternal life are very poignant to me right now. The loss I feel is visceral; it is raw. Death puts many things into perspective. It becomes easier to see what is truly important and life-giving and what is not. None of us is perfect, and many of us might be considered dumb or naïve for following Jesus and listening to His voice. But you could also say we trust Him. And that trust we have in His goodness, love and mercy will bring us abundant life and eternal bliss.
My Easter Prayer is that everyone will come to recognize the voice of our Savior, our Good Shepherd. Jesus Christ, the Nazorean who was crucified but who was raised from the dead and reigns in heaven forever. God bless you.