The Gospel of St. John, Chapter 10, says, "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me."
The church where I worshiped for a large part of my young life sits balanced atop a rather steep hill. From this vantage point, you can view the entire town of Letterkenny in County Donegal, Ireland as it zig zags its way down the hill from all sides. But, perhaps the most captivating sight from this altitude, when I was a child, was the beautiful patchwork of sheep farms and meadowlands that rose upwindingly from the bottom of the hill, encircling the church all around.
Regrettably, that pastoral scene has been changed because of "progress" and the modern, commercial developments now dotting the landscape. Still, I have been fortunate to have had this childhood experience, one enriching me and enabling me to appreciate what being a shepherd means, and why Jesus chose the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep to describe his relationship with his people.
Jesus uses the image of the shepherd to describe his style of leadership. He draws on local understanding of how sheep would follow the voice of the Shepherd. For example, unlike shepherds in our western hemisphere, the Semitic shepherd of Jesus’s day led his sheep; he did not drive them.
Likewise, the ancient shepherd’s pen was formed of simple brambles and a rope. The shepherd himself would serve as the closure to the pen; that is, he was the sheep gate. He would also sit and guard his sheep.
This sense of identity between the good shepherd and his sheep was so intimate that the shepherd could gather them simply by the sound of his voice, and the sheep would respond to his call.
In the same way, the followers of Jesus know His voice, they recognize the call of the Good Shepherd," My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me."
Jesus identifies with us the way the shepherd identifies with his sheep. He is both our guide and protector. As guide, He leads us through hardships and brings us to salvation. As protector, He offers us security and comfort along the way. He is telling us, in this Gospel story, that our destiny is inseparably linked to our faith in him.
All we need to do is respond to his call. You don’t have to give up your profession, house, car or your savings account, but you do have to be detached from them to answer his call. For as we see in the the Gospel of St. Mark, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but looses his soul?" (Gospel of St. Mark, Chapter 8:36-38).
What is the most important thing in your life? Is it your job? Is it your material possessions? Or, is it your soul? To the degree you listen to the voice of the good shepherd, and follow him, you are nurturing the needs of the soul. To the degree you are governed by material things rather than the gospel, you are worshiping at the altar of mammon, and you cannot serve both God and mammon.
Now is a good time to listen to the good shepherd for whoever enters through him will find, not only salvation, but rest and safety from the cares of the world.
Fr. Hugh Duffy holds a Ph.D. from the University of Hull, England. Born in Donegal, Ireland, he was ordained in 1966 in Dublin, Ireland. He is pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Okeechobee, Florida, where he served for 30 years and built a new Church, debt-free, in 2013. He founded Christian Community Action (CCA) in Ireland that built housing for seniors, a sheltered workshop and bakery for people with disabilities, a community center, and an addiction treatment center. Since 2013 he has traveled across America as an Outreach Priest for Cross Catholic Outreach, Inc. Duffy’s recent book, "What is This Thing Called Faith?" is a collection of meditations with reflections for readers on the sayings of Jesus. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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