Last week we were reminded that Jesus was walking with us on our journey. This week we remember that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and that we have to listen to his voice.
The image of sheep and shepherds is one which the Jews of Jesus’ time would be familiar. The prophets used the image of sheep and shepherds to describe the relationship between the people and their leaders in ancient times (see Jeremiah 23:1-4; Ezekiel 34:1-31; Zechariah 10:2-3 and 11:4-17)1.
Israel/Palestine at that time was a rough and stony pasture land and shepherds moving their sheep would have been a common sight. Sheep were kept mainly for wool rather than for their meat and the shepherd would herd them for many years. The sheepfold was a yard or an enclosure where sheep were kept, especially overnight, only the sheep and the shepherds entered by the gate of the sheepfold, the sheepfold was a place of safety. The sheep knew their shepherd’s voice because he had protected them for several years, so when they were in the sheepfold with other flocks, they would respond to their shepherd and remain with their own flock.2
The Gospel used today is the turning point of John’s Gospel; we are moving away from the signs Jesus gave and start to move towards the Passion of Jesus. This passage follows immediately after the passage where Jesus has cured the blind man. The blind man who became a follower of Jesus and who testified for Jesus under interrogation by the Pharisees. The blind man listened to Jesus’ voice, he obeyed Jesus and then followed him to find better pastures.
Within today’s Gospel we hear a phrase from Jesus twice “I tell you most solemnly,” this phrase indicates Jesus’ formal teaching and in this case it is aimed against the Pharisees who had rejected and expelled the cured blind man from the temple.3 The blind man was cured of physical and spiritual blindness because he heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and he obeyed. In this teaching Jesus is pointing towards the Pharisees, highlighting their spiritual blindness and calling them thieves and brigands,telling the people that if you follow these men who refuse to believe in Jesus despite all of the signs Jesus has already given in the previous 9 chapters of John’s Gospel, then you will be lost.
Recently, I watched an episode of Countryfile on BBC. It was a lambing special and one of the first things the shepherd did when the lamb was born was to separate the ewe and her lambs from the other members of the flock to help them get to know the sound and the smell of each other. It was explained that when they are back in the flock it would be very easy for the lamb and the ewe to become separated and if that was to happen out in the fields then the lamb would soon go hungry as it was unlikely that any other ewe would allow a strange lamb to feed from her.
In a similar way, when we are growing in faith we need to learn which voices to listen to; will we listen to those who lead us astray or will we find the correct voices which will nourish our faith, helping us to grow to maturity in faith so that we are able to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd when he calls us towards the gates of His Heavenly sheepfold?
Good Shepherd Sunday is held every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter. It is a reminder to us that God calls each one of us to serve in different ways to build up His Kingdom. Some of us are called to marriage, some to the single life, others are called to the Priesthood or the Religious life.
My call to the Permanent Diaconate started a long time before I actually said yes. Around 10 years before I approached anyone about becoming a deacon, I started to get a thought around it that wouldn’t go away. I know all about my faults and failings and I kept putting the ‘Deacon thought’ to the back of my mind, telling myself that I wasn’t good enough or clever enough. I worried about what people would think about me, both people in the Church and my friends and family who weren’t in the Church. I allowed what people would think and my negative thoughts to dominate and suppress my calling for a long time.
Then two things happened around the same time, during a Lent course I heard someone say that if you think you hear a call from God, but you aren’t sure it’s from God try and ignore it, if it is from God it will keep coming back and then one night before Mass the priest got up to make a plea for more volunteers, I heard criticism from the pulpit and what I perceived as negativity. I reasoned to myself that I already did quite a bit and had no time to do anymore. I turned to Pam (my wife) and said I’ve had enough of this. Pam then said some of the most dangerous words a wife can say to a husband – “What are you going to do about it?”
I took part in the Mass and at the end of the Mass she asked me again, “What are you going to do about it?” I replied I am going to become a deacon. There followed a time of prayer and discernment before I spoke to our Parish Deacon and started the formal process of applying for the formation course which led to me being ordained last year in Portsmouth Cathedral.
Jesus our Good Shepherd, call each of us by name. In a message on Vocations, Pope Francis says “Today let us ask ourselves whether we are afraid of what God might ask or of what he does ask….Do I truly let God into my life? How do I answer him?”4
So what are you going to do about it?
Deacon Tony Darroch, 1st May 2020.
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1 Francis J Maloney, S.D.B., Sacra Pagina- The Gospel of John, (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1998)301.
2 Richard A Burridge, John, The People’s Bible Commentary, (The Bible Reading Fellowship, Oxford, 1998)132-3.
3 Robert Draper, Breaking the Word Sundays, (The Pastoral Review Vol 16 Issue 2, Twickenham, 2020)80.
4 Pope Francis, Portsmouth Diocese Vocations Newsletter, (Portsmouth Diocese, Portsmouth, May 2020)