Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me.” Jesus, in today’s Gospel, John 10:11-18.
“The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.” Abraham Lincoln.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Easter, known as Good Shepherd Sunday because of the Gospel reading where Jesus declares himself to be the Good Shepherd willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus is also called the lamb of God by John the Baptist and, in this sheep rearing valley with its many sheep and lambs, St Melangell’s shrine reflects this. The crockets, or hook-shaped decorations near the top of the shrine, remind some people of the profile of a sheep’s head, so appropriate in a place that has provided pastoral care, sanctuary and healing for so many pilgrims over the years.
However, in the time of Jesus, shepherds and hirelings were seen very differently from today. Shepherds then lived harsh, unclean lives which often kept them away from their families and meant that they would not be able to keep the Jewish ritual and dietary laws so they were often shunned by religious people. The sheep were wiry creatures hard to distinguish from goats and it was difficult sometimes to provide food or water whilst attacks from wild animals, theft and injury meant that the work was sometimes dangerous too. So, by calling himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus is saying that he’s prepared to leave the respectable comfort of those who lead upright lives to go out to the edges of society to seek the lost or the stragglers and confront danger in doing so if necessary. Being a good shepherd then meant leaving safe places, running the risk of religious disapproval and facing hardship – which Jesus did throughout his ministry.
His example contrasts with a church that has sometimes lost its way and is not always welcoming of those on the margins but the pandemic is making many people rethink what it means to be church today and to explore new ways of following the Good Shepherd. There are many ways of getting to know and be known by him as I realised recently when a flock of sheep and lambs raced after their good shepherd’s vehicle, knowing that he was bringing their food – their delight and bleating was wonderful!
Perhaps, amidst the challenges of the pandemic, it’s easy to have lost sight of our zest for life and to have become understandably worried by the dangers around and the loss of liberty. Lincoln’s words above remind us that much ahead will need reassessing and exploring but joy and hope will return in time when we listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice and realise afresh the resurrection truth of what he said this Eastertide.
Meanwhile, I see all this in a different way having on my lap a poorly newborn lamb and being liberally spattered throughout last night with what it produced and the milk it needed. My labradoodle, Barney, sadly having to be put to sleep recently means that the Guardian of the Guardian is no longer around to shepherd me or warn me of danger as he sometimes did. However, the blanket seen in the photo was his and it’s now giving warmth and comfort to this tiny creature who may not survive but might be able to return to the flock if it does. So, this Good Shepherd Sunday, I thought there was only one name for the lamb in these circumstances: Baaarney!
With my prayers,