’When we hear his voice may we know him who calls us each by name and follow where he leads.’
This is Good Shepherd Sunday, and we heard the 23rd Psalm which is probably the most well-known of the 150 Psalms it reminds us ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’. And we heard in the Gospel Jesus as both the Shepherd and the gate.
Jesus tells the Pharisees ‘I am the gate’. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
A sheep pen found on a hillside two thousand years ago was a primitive enclosure with a simple, single opening and in the evening a shepherd would lay their whole body across the opening to both keep the sheep in and wolves out. Being a shepherd was rough work and one would frequently put one’s life on the line protecting the flocks of sheep that were held in the communal pen. Each morning shepherds came and called their flocks. The sheep knew the voice of their shepherd and they followed.
Sheep are not likely, left to their own devices to look for food or water and they have no sense of danger, making them easy prey. Because they are social creatures, they will also follow one another aimlessly, even into danger. As Jesus describes the mutual relationship between the sheep and shepherd, it is one that is formed out of time spent with each other and trust earned. The sheep do not blindly follow the shepherd. They do so because they have learned to trust. It’s important that the sheep trust the shepherd and building any lasting relationship takes spending time together.
The Pharisees didn’t understand the metaphor so, Jesus tried another: “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. Not only is Jesus the Good Shepherd; Jesus is also the gate.
Sheep are not the most intelligent of animals yet the metaphor of people as sheep is found in the Hebrew Scripture such as the 23rd Psalm, and also in the prophets, as well as in the New Testament Epistles, and in our 4 Gospels.
Sheep are social creatures as we humans are. Sheep will follow other sheep blindly without regard for what may be in their best interest. We often do the same. Sheep listen to the voice of their shepherd, yet we often follow outside voices. Each and every day we hear a cacophony of voices telling us what’s best for us, which thing will make us rich, pretty, handsome, powerful. They want us to forget the Gospel-the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t yell over the loudness around us. Jesus has a small voice that urges us to follow one voice. Jesus speaks to each one of us, lovingly, calling us each by name, asking us to follow. Through the gate, door. Jesus’ voice is the one that asks us to ignore the other voices and instead feed the poor, visit those in prison, share what we have with those in need.
A gate creates an opening in whatever surrounds us. There are gates all around, some to keep us in and animals out. We see gates as welcoming and some we would never want to go through. Gated communities are meant to keep people who don’t belong outside so that those living inside feel safe. Gates in prisons keep people in, away from being free. Gates can be necessary or decorative. Gates can be well maintained or falling apart. Some gates are exclusionary.
Jesus as the gate is the way to eternal life. Jesus asks that we live a life of love and compassion, not one that excludes others. Jesus doesn’t exclude anyone.
We know from 1st Peter that following Jesus is not easy or comfortable and might bring suffering. We know that following the Good Shepherd through the gate is a radical way to live in these times. Our world is being torn apart day by day with war, hatred, anger, fear, distrust and rage. Our world appears to be like sheep without a shepherd. We must set our sights on following the radical way of Jesus and his followers.
Our reading from Acts shows us that “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” These people spent time together, ate together, worshiped together, and lived with mutual interdependence. They lived lives of generosity. How unlike the voices yelling all around us today! They saw Jesus as the gate; they knew they were not the gate just as we aren’t the gate. It’s not up to us who is inside and who is outside.
We need to figure out in our hearts the gates we enter and exit. Each gate is an opportunity. Who are the gatekeepers in your life? What does each gatekeeper tell you? What do they want for and from you? Are they compassionate or like robbers and thieves? Do the gatekeepers ask you to leave your comfort zone and go out into the margins of life and minister to the ones that are hungry, sick, homeless and in need? Or do they tell you that you just need to take care of yourself and those in your immediate family without regard for those you don’t know and love?
How do you hear Jesus calling you? In order to hear Jesus’ voice, we must be willing to listen from our hearts. It is in our hearts we realize who we are and to whom we really belong. Henri Nouwen wrote: God does not shout, scream, or push. The Spirit of God is soft and gentle like a small voice or a light breeze. It is the Spirit of Love.
We are challenged to emulate Jesus and become like good shepherds and act as caring disciples for the flock.
As we come to the altar and receive the body and blood of Christ let us remember that having been fed, we must now go and feed others so that they also come to know the love of the Good Shepherd. Amen