Jesus talks about sheep and shepherds in the Gospel. What are some facts about these wooly things we call sheep? Try this image: In your childhood you might have turned various insects on their own backs, just for fun. I admit that I did this with grasshoppers on summer visits to my grandparents’ house in Mobile, Alabama. It is not something that I am proud of, but I was a child; being adventurous with other children. Thankfully, we usually had mercy on them and turned them back over and let them go (smile). What a memory!
Well, shepherd tells us that an unshorn sheep is the same way, completely stranded when it falls on its back. In order to get the confused creature right-side-up, the shepherd carries what is called a “crook.” With it he would grasp the upside-down sheep and turn it right-side-up. He was kind and careful with his flock. This is the reason they followed him.
History tells us that, in Jesus’ day the many shepherds took their small herds to Jerusalem when it was time and that instead of keeping the different flocks separate, they put them all together into one big sheepfold. Funneled like this, flocks became just one big fuzzy mob. This image reminds me of what Fr. Tim McCabe was saying to our youth who were on Confirmation retreat this past Saturday at the Solanus Casey Center. He stated in his homily reflection, “Young people, your generation will be the first generation that will understand what it means to be open and accepting of all people regardless of who they are and what they look like.” As an adult I was moved by this hopeful image, it is my prayer, that our teens will keep and embrace this message of inclusion.
Why does Jesus use such imagery on the Fourth Sunday of Easter? I supposed you have the answer already, but, if you will be open to this comparison, you and I are like sheep. Just as a shepherd calls his sheep by name, the magnificent God of the universe calls each of us by a unique name. He knows each and every one of us better than we know ourselves. If you ever have doubt of who you are called, just read Psalm 139 verses 1-3, 13-16. To paraphrase it, even before you were born God knew you. In a wonderful reflection that I heard by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, he states that “God gives each of us a kiss right above our lip. It’s that small indention, and sometimes when we are trying to remember something we will usually touch this spot to think. The question is are we trying to remember something or is God gently reminding us of just how much he loves us. Think about that for a moment…