On this day, which we popularly call Good Shepherd Sunday, we have an opportunity to reflect on our recognition of Christ.
In today’s Gospel, we read of the importance of recognising the voice of the Shepherd. Recognition of his voice means safety, the assurance that we shall be looked after. Christ makes the point that sheep do not follow strangers. It is not in their nature. What is natural, though, is for us as God’s children to follow in his ways.
Christ refers to himself as the gate of the sheepfold. In other words, he is the Way. He is our road, our salvation.
When we recognise Jesus as our gateway, our salvation, then we put ourselves into his hands. With our sense of recognition of Jesus comes a greater understanding: we are looking to him for our safety and our sustenance. We are taking his teachings and living by them.
We do not always recognise Christ. But then, neither did the disciples. In last Sunday’s Gospel two of the disciples failed to recognise Jesus even though they had a long discussion with him on the road. And in today’s Gospel the disciples didn’t comprehend what Jesus meant to the extent that he had to explain it to them. We are like this. We need to keep returning to our source. And this is Jesus. Just as sheep have their Shepherd as their main source of sustenance and security, so we turn to Christ for our safety.
It is hard to read today’s Gospel and not consider all those people in the Church who have used – and who use – their appearance as shepherds to harm people. Being a shepherd, appointed by Christ, is one of the greatest responsibilities known humankind. Brigands and thieves do still enter the sheepfold, some dressed as sheep, others as shepherds. For those dressed as shepherds, the disguise facilitates their deceit. But the acid test of being a shepherd still remains, and that is to care unfailingly and, if necessary, to put your own life in danger rescue one who has strayed. We find this acid-test whenever we return to the source, and we do this by reading the Gospels. Christ showed empathy, unconditional love and duty of care to his sheep, not on the odd occasion but consistently. He, our Way, still leads us by the same example that led those first disciples.
In an age such as ours, in which empathy and humility can be seen as weaknesses, recognising Christ is not going to be any easier for us than it was for the disciples. We go to the Gospels to recognise Christ. But he is in those around us, and he dwells in us, too. He is in those whom he has appointed to be shepherds of his flock. And we as followers of Christ are also called to be shepherds in our own way. So it is well to reflect on this question: when and where have we recognised the presence of Christ today? And an accompanying question: what shall be our reaction?
Jesus said: ‘I tell you most solemnly, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, 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.’
Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to them. So Jesus spoke to them again:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
I am the gate of the sheepfold.
All others who have come
are thieves and brigands;
but the sheep took no notice of them
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.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I have come so that they may have life
and have it to the full.
The Gospel of the Lord.