Reflection for Good Shepherd Sunday
”My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me.” Jesus, in today’s gospel, John 10:22-30.
“With the smell of the sheep.” Pope Francis’ hope for good shepherds, 2013.
“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha…. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died…..they laid her in an upper room.” From Acts 9:36-end.
Today’s Gospel continues the Good Shepherd teaching which begins earlier in John, chapter 10. In this part, Jesus is walking in the temple when some of the leaders of the Jews encircle him, trying to trap him as they question him yet again about who he is. When they ask him, “How long will you keep us in suspense?” (v24) it’s clear that it‘s frustration rather than suspense that is bothering them and Jesus speaks plainly to them as they question him – but not in the way they anticipate. Jesus spoke plainly to the Samaritan woman (4:25-26) and the man born blind (9:5, 35-37) but these leaders are not seeking the truth of who Jesus is as they look for ways to trap and convict him. So, Jesus tells them directly that they do not believe because they don’t belong to his sheep, who know his voice and follow him because he knows them, not because they know him. This so infuriates the leaders that they begin to attempt to stone him and then have him arrested – but Jesus escapes and leaves the temple.
Jesus is called the lamb of God by his second cousin, John the Baptist (1:29) and he refers to himself the good shepherd (v11) but, despite their years of study and ministry, these religious leaders choose not to hear or see the reality before them. They are free to make their choice and do not want to be sheep of his flock – like many religious people, they prefer to keep God at a convenient distance and pay him lip service to ensure that he does not make too many demands on their practice and comfort.
All this contrasts with Tabitha, also called Dorcas, in the Acts reading for today. Both her names mean gazelle, a fleet creature known for its speed and grace. Tabitha is the first woman in the New Testament to be noted as a disciple and she has clearly done much as a follower who has chosen to respond whole heartedly to helping those in need around her. When she dies, her body is taken to an upper room whilst her friends weep outside for her and show the many things she has made for those in need. As in the upper room at Easter, wonder-ful things happen as new life comes to Tabitha and those grieving her when Peter prays for her and God’s grace is shared by the disciples who continue Jesus’ work of love and practical care for others. They have been given power from the Holy Spirit that they can use – and they do.
This passage is not just about those Jews then but our response to Jesus today as we, too, have the free choice about who we think he is and what impact he has on our lives.Pope Francis referred in the early days of his papacy to the need for shepherds who smell of the sheep because they spend so much time with their flock. That’s not necessarily a pleasant aroma but many shepherds have soft hands because of the lanolin in the wool they so often touch. Whether as shepherds or part of the flock, do we perhaps need to soften our views and actions towards ourselves and others as we consider our response to the good shepherd who knows us and calls us to follow him, actively using the power of the Holy Spirit rather than just being a woolly thinker?! The challenge for each of us is to, “Let Him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.” Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland.
With my prayers; pob bendith,