The Gospel St. John 10.11
At that time: Jesus said: I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and know my sheep, and am know of mine, even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.
Shepherds and sheep. Today, the second Sunday after Easter, is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday; and having just heard the Gospel lesson you can probably figure out why. The analogy in this parable is obvious. Jesus is the Shepherd and we are the sheep. OK, got it. But if we think that’s where it ends, then we need to think again.
Just prior to today’s Gospel lesson, in the ninth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, is the story of the healing of the man who had been blind since birth and his subsequent questioning by the Pharisees. You will recall that the Pharisees felt a bit insulted when Jesus told them that he had come so that “they which see not, might see; and those that see might be made blind” (John 9:39). Some of them rather indignantly questioned Jesus; “are we blind also” (John 9:40)? Bad question.
Jesus tells them that it would have better for them if they had been blind (v 41, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin”). What he meant is that if they had never heard God’s word, then they would have an excuse for the way they treated the people. However; Since they had heard the Word, since they were not blind, that made them guilty. Guilty of not heading God’s Word. Guilty of not caring for His people. Guilty of misleading the people. Guilty of abandoning the flock. (“but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth”)
The net result was that the Pharisees had endangered the Salvation of the people, as well as their own. They had left the flock open to attack from that old wolf, Satan. They had left the people defenseless in the world. They had failed to do the job that was entrusted to them. “The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep “
You see, when Jesus referred to a “hireling”, he was talking about someone who was employed by the shepherd to watch over the flock; and they usually did so just fine, until the first sign of trouble. Then it was, SEE YA! HOPE IT TURNS OUT OK! The flock trusted this guy, and he cuts and runs when things get tough. Turns out hirelings have no real vested interest in protecting the sheep because they’re just in it for the money; more interested in themselves than in those they were supposed to be watching over.
We can see analogies all over the place in our world today. We have seen priests and bishops in our former church who have distorted the Gospel; deliberately misleading the people. We have seen politicians who were hired to watch over and defend us, only to see them compromise their principles when the heat got turned up or the money hits the table. And we have seen many, many sheep going astray; leaving the church, clinging to false gospels, engaging in sinful actions, risking their salvation; all at the urging or approval of those who had been entrusted with their care.
So along comes this Jesus of Nazareth, who doesn’t just call out Pharisees for their actions. No, Jesus also tells them, how they should be acting. How they should be leading. How they should be ready not only to watch over the flock, but to defend them! How that defense includes the ultimate sacrifice.
But of course, it goes even further than that because that same defense continues to this day. It continues because when it came time for Jesus to end his earthly ministry, he passed along the responsibility to his disciples, “as my Father hath sent me, so send I you” (John 20:21). Remember too that Jesus commanded St. Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). That responsibility, to care for the sheep and protect the flock, has been passed on by Christ himself to his ministers; our Bishops and Priests (and yes, this was foreshadowed in last Sunday’s sermon).
It is our job to lead you to places where your spirit can be fed. It is our job to make sure that at the end of day, you come back to the safety and sanctuary of the Catholic Faith. It is our job, as “under-shepherds” of the Good Shepherd himself, to warn you of danger and guard you from the wolf.
Let me give you an example. I’m going to play the role of a shepherd and fulfill one of my responsibilities by warning you of danger; when you begin to worry about being politically correct, you are in danger. The simple fact of the matter is that Jesus was not politically correct, and truly following him isn’t either. Abortion is murder. Holy Matrimony is the union of one man and one woman. The priesthood is inherently male in nature. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. Jesus said, “go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). There is no salvation outside the Church; and the only way to God is through Jesus Christ no matter who it might offend from what ever other faith community. It is not politically correct to be a Christian! Anyone who tries to make Christianity “politically correct” is a wolf.
So, some of you are probably thinking, “whew, Thank God I’m not clergy; being one of the sheep is a lot easier!”! Uh-uh. Sorry, you don’t get off that easy. Even as sheep, you bear some responsibility. Remember this little part? “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice“.
There are a lot of wolves out there. Too many, to be sure, for the number of faithful clergy we have. And there are a lot of sheep too. And so, other “under-shepherds” are needed. That’s were you come in.
Some of you may have known a gentleman named Harold Freeman. Harold was the organist at St. Paul’s (Grand Rapids) for a number of years in addition to all the other functions he performed in the service of the Church. When talking about the subject of evangelism, Harold used to say, “Shepherds do not beget sheep; sheep beget sheep” (no doubt many of you will have heard me repeat this quote on numerous occasions). His point was that it is not the priests and bishops of the Church that make the flock grow; it is the people, the sheep themselves that cause churches to grow.
It is also incumbent on the sheep to help protect the flock. And they do this by remaining faithful; by not wandering into places that are dangerous. You see, the odd thing here is that those who do wander, who fail to remain faithful and obedient to the flock and to the Good Shepherd; they become wolves as well.
So your task, as faithful members of God’s flock, is to play your own part in tending that flock. Ask yourself; what am I doing? What else can I do? What more can I do? Then resolve to be one of God’s “under-shepherds” and encourage your fellow members of His flock to remain likewise faithful and obedient. Seek out those who are outside the fold and help them to likewise hear the voice of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd. It is in this way that Christ knows us, and we, his sheep, will know him.
I am the good shepherd; and know my sheep, and am know of mine