This is a very vivid and visual story where we can picture the shepherd, the sheepfold, the gate and the sheep so common to Old and New Testament stories and parables. A shepherd was a common and important job in those days because a family may very well have their wealth tied up in the flock so great care was needed to protect the flock. Good shepherds could be trusted with this wealth and family livelihood while bad shepherds could ruin a family by losing those entrusted to the shepherd.
Jesus says He is the shepherd of the sheep, the sheep know his voice, He calls them by name…each and every one. He calls them into the sheepfold where they will be safe, and He leads them to green pastures. Jesus also says He is the gate for the sheep and all who enter through him will be saved.
This story would have real meaning to his followers, the people of Israel of that day. And it does for us too, particularly in these difficult times. We are the people of God, part of the Body of Christ. By our Baptism and faith, we are His, He loves us and calls us by name. That is comforting! But do we hear His call and do we respond to His call?
Jesus also talks in this story about the thieves and robbers who climb over the fence to scatter the flock away from the shepherd. We certainly hear these voices in our lives too don’t we? There is much in the world today that distracts us, scatters us from His sheepfold, from His green pasture.
Non-stop Covid-19 news with little of it good
Feelings of separation from our Churches
Working from home full-time
Isolation – we can’t see or hug our family and friends
Fear…of the future, of getting the virus, of getting too close to people….
It can all be very depressing….
I know for me getting up every day, turning on that computer and facing a long string of Zoom calls is not something I look forward to. It reminds me of how much has changed and how far we are from “normal”. I dread it at times. And if you are not working, you still have the same strain and anxiety being stuck at home. In non-pandemic times, we get through tough patches because we have things to look forward to – going out to dinner, traveling, seeing family, but today, quite frankly, we do not always have as much to look forward to in our pandemic impacted lives.
But despite all of this…He calls us! He wants us in the sheepfold. He wants to lead us to green pastures. He is the gate to salvation. Especially during these times He calls us byname! So how can we respond to His call? We respond by….
Simple acts of kindness
Praying the Rosary
“Attending Mass” on TV
Lifting it up….
Make no mistake about it, Jesus wants us to turn to Him, He wants to help in these difficult times! We should not deny Him that love He wants to give us…if only we ask. And we needthat love and grace! There is a line in the Liturgy of the Hours from Psalm 63 where we pray, “My body pines for you, like a dry weary land without water.” I think He pines for us too.
The mercy of Jesus Christ is never ending, it is a well of mercy and love that never, ever runs dry. St Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, prays that we, “comprehend…what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love, and that the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge. Think about that, His love is so deep that words are incapable of explaining it or measuring it. I used to fear that Jesus would grow weary of me always lifting my struggles up to Him until I finally understood. Every time I do not lift it up, I am denying Him the love he wants to give me. Now instead I feel guilty when I don’t lift it up! There is a great novena prayer called the Surrender Prayer where we pray, “O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.” Jesus counsels us that surrender means to turn away from thought of tribulation and to put yourself in His care so that only He acts when we say “Jesus, I surrender myself to you.”
When we are in pain, fear, anxiety, and isolation we need to lay all of that at His feet, we need to lift it up. He will take it from us every time…if only we ask. Too often I know that I don’t remember this until much later and so I have suffered with something that he was waiting for me to lift up. When in prayer we lift up our burdens we then can accept His embrace… we can cry on His shoulder… we hear His voice in the quiet…we can rest in His arms.
He will protect us. He is our shepherd. He calls us by name.