Since today is Good Shepherd Sunday I wish to take a close look at the work of the shepherds in the first century.
In the time of Christ, they did not have fences and the sheep were not kept in barns because they moved to a new pasture every day. Every day the shepherd would move his flock in hope of finding greener pastures. The shepherd was always looking for pastures that did not contain weeds and poisonous plants. The shepherd was also leading the flock to pools of still water. The shepherds say that this is necessary because the sheep will not drink from a stream of running water. The movement of the water scares them. They will drink only from pools of still water.
The shepherd protected them in the valley of darkness. With his rod and staff, the shepherd protected them. The shepherds of the Holy Land tell us that they have to lead the sheep through the Valley of Darkness twice a year: to go south in the fall and to go north in the spring.
The shepherd used his rod and staff in the Valley of Darkness. There were wolves in the Valley of Darkness and the shepherd used his rod and staff to hit the wolves and drive them away. At the end of the day the shepherd rubbed the faces of his sheep with olive oil to heal the wounds that the sheep had received by sticking their noses into briars and brambles and thistles. Before it was dark the sheep were herded into a temporary corral that was made of field stones. Five or six shepherds would herd their sheep into that corral and one shepherd sat in the gate area all night to make sure that bandits did not come and steal the lambs. The gate was not made of wood. It was a shepherd who sat in the gate area of the corral.
In the morning, each shepherd would sing a song and the sheep would go to their shepherd because they recognized his voice. Now for the spiritual interpretation for today’s gospel.
The shepherd’s relationship with the flock is a revelation of how Jesus relates with his people. Jesus is like a shepherd - compassionate and very close to his people. He gives us full time care…. Just as the shepherd is with his flock every hour of the day.
Jesus brings healing to his people just as the shepherd uses olive oil to bring healing to his flock. Jesus was compassionate and He brought healing to his people. He was compassionate in that he always visited those suffering from poor health whenever he visited a town. And he was always reaching out to touch them.
When they brought forward a man who was blind, Jesus touched his eyes and placed his hand on his head, and he was cured. When they brought forward a leper, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him and he was healed. When a group of parents brought their children to Jesus, he touched them and blessed them. When Simon Peter’s mother-in-law had a terrible fever, Jesus touched her hand, and the fever went away. What Jesus did with his hands was very significant. His ministry with his hands helps us to remember that Jesus is always in touch with his people.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the sheepgate and whoever enters the corral through me will be saved.” The corral that Jesus refers to is the Kingdom. If you want to get into the Kingdom, you have to go through the gate and the gate is Jesus.
He is the shepherd, and you have to listen to his voice if you want to get in. Like he says in today’s gospel, “Listen to my voice and I will give you life and life to the full. Don’t listen to the Pharisees because they are the bandits. If you listen to the voices of the Pharisees, you will go astray and become lost sheep.” Jesus says, “If you listen to my voice you will become servants in the Kingdom. Many times I have told you that I came to serve and not to be served. If you listen to my voice you will serve others without seeking reward.”
After Jesus rose from the dead, he directed his disciples to carry on his ministry. He directed his disciples to be the voice of God and the hands of God serving the people in the church and in the world.
We are the modern-day disciples and Jesus is calling us to reach out to others and to serve others without counting the cost or seeking reward. We should be shepherds for each other. That means that we should be close to each other and caring for each other. We should do as Jesus did. We should reach out to people to build up a community of faith in our day.
I will close with a short statement. Jesus was the Good Shepherd, and he was very close to his people. Before leaving this world, he called his disciples (and all of us) to be the good shepherds who reveal to people how much God loves them. Our mission in life is to tell people how much God loves them.