The Good Shepherd, 3rd Century, Catacombs of Priscilla, Rome.
First reading Acts 2:14,36-41
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 22(23)
Second reading 1 Peter 2:20-25
Gospel John 10:1-10
“Anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand.” Boys and girls, in Jesus’ day, people had very small flocks of sheep, and they didn’t have big farms with fenced off paddocks like we have here in Australia. They simply grazed in the open country, and so shepherds had to stay close to their sheep to make sure they didn’t stray and get lost or get stolen by someone or killed by a wild animal. At night, the shepherd would bring his sheep into a sheepfold, which was a kind of yard or court that was safe from the outside world. Every morning he would come through the gate and call his sheep, and they would follow him out into the pastures. Flocks of sheep were small enough that it was possible for a shepherd to give each sheep a name and call them by name. Jesus warns us in the Gospel to watch out for the one who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but sneaks in another way, like jumping over the fence or the back wall. That person “is a thief and a brigand”, he says. What do thieves do? They steal. What to brigands do? They steal and they wreck. Jesus is warning us that there are some who will try to steal and wreck his flock. Who are his flock? We are. Boys and girls, Jesus is not really talking about sheep, he’s talking about the flock of his followers.
“One by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers.” The question is, boys and girls, do we know the voice of the Shepherd? Because if we don’t recognise his voice, we might end up following a thief or a brigand who has snuck in round the back. Do we know and love Jesus enough to be able to recognise his voice? There are many voices around us in the world today, voices that tell us to do this and do that, voices that say this is good and that is bad. Voices that contradict each other. Perhaps we hear different voices, different opinions at home, at school, out in the community, and at church. How do we know which is true? They can’t all be true if they contradict each other. How do we know which one comes from Jesus our true shepherd? Well, first we have to become familiar with Jesus’ voice. The only way we can do that is by frequently reading his Word in the bible, and by spending time talking with Jesus every single day in prayer, and, if you’re old enough, to receive the Sacraments. Because it’s through the Sacraments that Jesus not only speaks to us in our soul, but also gives himself to us and lives in our soul. In other words, boys and girls, we have to get to know Jesus personally, if we are going to be able to distinguish his voice, from the voices of thieves and brigands.
What is more, another criterion we can use to judge whether a voice or opinion is from the true Shepherd or from a brigand, is to think about the gate. Jesus says in the Gospel today, somewhat surprisingly, “I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe: he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture.” Ah, so those who have not come through Jesus, but have got in some other way, they are thieves and brigands! So, boys and girls, if a voice in our world goes against the voice of Jesus, which is the voice of Truth, if it hasn’t come through him, we must not listen to it! That can be tricky, because the thief’s voice is smooth, and it usually promises us so many delights and good things. In particular, it likes to promise us freedom. But it is a lying voice. That’s what the serpent said to Adam and Eve in the garden: ‘disobey God and you’ll be free, your eyes will be opened and you’ll be like God.’ To follow the brigand will not only wreck our faith but will wreck our very souls and take away our freedom to do what is good. Jesus says, however, that anyone who enters through him “will be safe: he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture.” So, it is in listening to the voice of God, who is our true Shepherd, which always comes from and through Jesus, that we will be kept safe and that the eternal life he gives us will be constantly deepened and nourished by the “fresh and green” pastures that he leads us to.
Boys and girls, did you know that Jesus is constantly speaking to you? He is constantly calling you to himself. He knows each of you by name. He knows more about you than you know about yourself. And he has a plan for each and every one of you. If only you’re willing to listen to his voice and ignore the voices of brigands, he will lead you to the best pasture of all. Let us pray in this morning’s Eucharist, “Jesus, help me to hear your voice and discover your plan for me. Jesus, what do you want me to do? Help me to follow you with faith and courage.”