Easter 4 C - Good Shepherd

From the Connections:

Final Exam
When Pauline Chen began medical school twenty years ago, she dreamed of saving lives.  What she did not count on was how much death would be a part of her work.  She chronicles her wrestling with medicine’s profound paradox in her recent book,

Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality.
When a patient is dying in the intensive care unit, the protocol is always the same:  Doors and curtains are closed around the patient and family, monitors are turned off — and physicians make themselves scarce.  But one death during her internship dramatically changed Doctor Chen’s thinking.  Early one morning, a patient’s heart began to fail after his long battle with colon cancer.  Doctor Chen called the family and the attending surgeon.  The dying man’s wife arrived first.  Doctor Chen took her to her husband’s room and quietly slipped out, as protocol dictated.  But when the attending arrived, he took the woman’s hand and quietly explained what was happening.  She began to sob.  But then, contrary to the norm, the doctor closed the curtains around the three of them. 
Doctor Chen remembers:
“I peeked in.  Inside, the woman was still sobbing, but she was standing with her hand in her husband’s.  The surgeon stood next to her and whispered something; the woman nodded and her sobs subsided.  Her shoulders relaxed and her breathing became more regular.  The surgeon whispered again, pointing to the monitors and to the patient’s chest and then gently putting his hand on the patient’s arm.  He was, I thought, explaining how life leaves the body — the last contractions of the heart, the irregular breaths, the final comfort of her presence . . . Thirty minutes passed before the surgeon stepped out.  Soon after, the patient’s wife appeared; her husband had died.  She thanked us, smiled weakly, and walked out of the ICU.”
What the attending surgeon did that morning had a profound effect on Doctor Chen.  She stopped slipping away from her dying patients but stayed with them and their families, answering questions, explaining what was happening, offering comfort and consolation.
“From that moment on,” Doctor Chen writes, “I would believe that I could do something more than cure.”

Christ the Good Shepherd calls us to listen consciously, deliberately, wisely for his voice in the depths of our hearts, to listen for his voice in the love and joy, the pain and anguish, the cries for mercy and justice of those around us; Christ the Son of God assures us that we are always safe and accepted in the loving embrace of his Father.  In turn, to be disciples of Christ is to be the voice of Christ and the embrace of God for one another, in the compassion, peace and forgiveness we work for and offer in the Spirit of the Risen One.  
From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In today's reading we see the power of the Risen Lord, which had transformed Peter, who preaches eloquently and takes on the establishment. Peter was speaking to the elders, the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, a powerful opposition for an uneducated fisherman, yet he and the other apostles displayed courage and greatness as they confront them head on. "If we are being questioned and asked how this man was healed, let it be known, that this man is standing in good health by the name of Jesus of Nazareth." Peter could have taken the credit for the miracle. Peter has learnt his lesson and knows that if he relies on himself he will fall, but his confidence is in the Lord, who never fails. Peter moves from the immediate fact of the healing, to the thing signified, namely the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Good Shepherds

In San Salvador on March 24, 1980, an assassin killed Archbishop Oscar Romero with a single shot to the heart while he was saying Mass. Only a few minutes before, Archbishop Romero had finished a hope-filled homily in which he urged the people to serve one another. Since Archbishop Romero was demanding human rights for his people under oppression, he knew that his life was in danger. Still he persisted in speaking out against tyranny and for freedom. He once told newspapermen that even if his enemies killed him, he would rise again among his people. Today, good shepherds who lay down their lives mean husbands and wives who can't do enough for each other to demonstrate their commitment to each other; parents who make countless sacrifices for the good of their children; teachers who spend untold hours instructing the weak students; doctors and nurses who work untiringly to show they care for their patients; employers who share profits with their workers; politicians who unselfishly promote the common good of their voters and parishioners who generously support their parish community.

Albert Cylwicki in 'His Word Resounds'

One of the most beautiful descriptions of God given by Jesus is contained in today's gospel reading where he proclaims: "I am the good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep." Jesus was the visible sign of God's constant care for his people. In our present day set-up the image of the shepherd may be alien to us but in Palestine the shepherd was a common figure in the countryside. The shepherd in Palestine led his flock, he did not drive them as shepherds elsewhere did. The shepherd literally lived with his flock, spent most of the day and night with them. Though there were hundreds of sheep belonging to different shepherds, the shepherd knew his own and his own sheep recognized his voice and followed him to the pastures. The good shepherd cared for the sheep to the point of death. He does not just surrender his life for his sheep, but he gives his life willingly, as He said at the last supper.

Knowing His sheep

One of the memories I have of the home of my birth was a dog we had, called Roxy. We lived on a fairly quiet road, but as the years went by, the number of cars increased. Irrespective of how many passed by, Roxy was quite indifferent. Then suddenly, the ears were at full stretch, up he sprang, and raced at full speed along the road. There was no sign of anything coming, but we all knew that my mother was on her way, driving back from town, and was probably several hundred yards away. With all the cars, this was the sound that Roxy recognized from a distance. By the time he met the car, my mother had rolled down the window on the passenger side, slowed down slightly and with the car still moving, Roxy sprang right into the front seat and accompanied her on the latter part of the journey. I'm sure most of us have known unique relationships between animals and humans.

Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'

A Good Shepherd

After a particularly brilliant concert, Beethoven was in the centre of congratulating friends and admirers, who praised his piano magic. One unusually enthusiastic woman exclaimed: "Oh, sir, if God had only given me the gift of genius!" "It is not genius, madam," replied Beethoven. "Nor magic. All you have to do is practice on your piano eight hours a day for forty years and you'll be as good as I am." We Christians have a leading role to play in redeeming the world, being porters of Jesus the Good Shepherd. That demands strenuous work, persistence and perseverance in doing good. Beethoven was able to perform great things because of his patience and perseverance. Any leadership implies that quality.

Anthony Kolencherry in 'Living the Word'

I know the Psalm, he knows the Shepherd

A group of men sat around debating good and bad memories. As a result of the discussion an impromptu contest began, to test their memories. One young man, with some artistic talent and training in voice production, recited Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd.' The rendition was very very effective, and he drew thunderous applause, so he had to recite the Psalm a second and third time. The second 'contestant' was an elderly man, over in the corner. He was rather stooped, and it was difficult to hear every word as he too recited 'The Lord is my Shepherd'. When he was finished, there was total silence in the room. Something strange had happened. Unconsciously, many people felt a sense of inner stirring, and a few began to whisper a quiet prayer. The young man who had recited the Psalm first time around, stood up and explained the different reception to the two recitals of the same Psalm. "I know the Psalm" he said, "but it is obvious that the old man knows the Shepherd".

Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'

Believe in the God of miracles!

"Mom, I need new shoes," Nicky announced as he burst through the door after school. "Miss Bell says it's dangerous to run in the gym with my toe sticking out." I looked down at my son's blue tennies. "You're right, Nicky. It's time for some new tennies, but you'll have to wait until our next pay check...." "But, Mother," Nicky protested, "I can't wear these shoes for gym anymore. Miss Bell said!" I launched into an elaborate discourse on budgeting principles. "So you see, Nicky," I concluded, "that's how Mommy and Daddy spend money. Tennis shoes are not in the budget this time; next time they will be." "Then I'll pray about my shoes," Nicky announced. "I'll tell God I need the money by tomorrow."....When he left for school the next morning, new tennis shoes were still uppermost on his mind. "Can we buy my shoes tonight? You'll get the money today, because I prayed about it." "We'll see, Nicky," I replied as I kissed him goodbye. There wasn't time to explain just then. But the need to explain didn't come; Nicky's answer came instead. "This is long overdue... sorry for the oversight," said the note I received in the mail that afternoon. The enclosed check, payment for an article I'd written long ago and forgotten, was more than enough to pay for Nicky's new shoes. After school, Nicky's blue eyes danced. "See, Mom, I told you it would come. Now can we buy my shoes?" Today Nicky wears new blue-and-gold tennis shoes - poignant reminders of a child's simple trust and of my need to continually relearn what faith is all about.

Ruth Sentor

True Shepherd or hireling

I remember a story of an atheistic journalist who, on one occasion, was visiting a leprosarium run by a group of religious sisters. When he entered a certain ward, he noticed a sister moving from one patient to another, cheerfully attending to each one with a nurturing love that was absolutely admirable. Unable to restrain his curiosity, he walked up to the religious and said, "Sister, I wouldn't do this job even if you gave me a million dollars." The sister smiled and replied, "neither would I my friend," and with that she continued tending to her patients. The journalist was absolutely dumbfounded. There and then he rejected his atheism. To quote his very own words, "A God who can inspire a human being to such dedicated and selfless service, in such revolting circumstances and with such good cheer cannot but be true. I believe in God." Such is the radical difference between a Good Shepherd and a hireling. One does his work because he wants to, the other does it because he has to; one has his heart in it, the other does not.

James Valladares in 'Your Words O Lord, Are Spirit, and They Are Life'

A Good Shepherd lays down his life

Saint Maximilian Kolbe is the patron of families, drug addicts, prisoners, journalists and pro-life movement, and he is known for founding the Immaculate Movement and producing the Knight of the Immaculata magazine. During World War II, Saint Maximilian housed over 3000 Polish refugees at his monastery. He was eventually imprisoned and sent to Auschwitz, where he experienced constant beatings and hard labour. St. Maximilian died in the place of a man with young children, who was chosen by the guards for the firing squad. Saint Kolbe is considered a good shepherd. He laid down his life for his sheep. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, a good time to pray for the good shepherds as well as the bad ones; and a good time to realize that the Good Shepherd still walks with us.

John Payappally in 'The Table of the Word'

1. Called ‘Sheep’ – the dumbest animal! 
One Sunday morning, following the church service, a layman accosted the pastor and said, "Tom, this church has been insulting me for years, and I did not know it until this week." The stunned pastor replied, "What on earth do you mean?" "Well," said the layman, every Sunday morning the call to worship in this church ends with the words, 'We are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.' And I have heard ministers over the years call the congregation, God's flock.' Then this past week I visited the Chicago stockyards. There I discovered that sheep are just about the dumbest animals God ever created. Why, they are so stupid that they even follow one another docilely into the slaughterhouse. Even pigs are smarter than sheep, and I would certainly be angry if my church called me a pig' every Sunday morning. So I'm not at all sure I want to come to church and be called a sheep' any longer...even God's sheep'."  
The man had a point. But whether we like it or not, that is the language of the Bible: both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament. We are called "God's sheep." The favorite psalm of many people is the 23rd, and it begins by saying, "The Lord is my shepherd..." And if "the Lord is my shepherd," then I am one of the Lord's sheep. Centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah said to his people: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) From the Bible, we have taken this pastoral imagery over into the Church. One of the symbols of the office of bishop across the centuries has been the shepherd's crook, that long staff with a hook on the end... 
2. Life can go from normal to nightmare in a nanosecond. 
Take hurricane Katrina. In two days there was no "normal" left for hundreds of thousands of Gulf coast residents. The well-housed went to homeless overnight, and people were left struggling just to find shelter, find food, and find clean water. The bare basics of life became the most all-important "finds." 
But not long after - once two days became a week - another need became pungently apparent. People needed clean clothes. Babies continued to trash their onesies, socks stank, T-shirts were as hard as T-bones. 
It was in response to the Katrina catastrophe that Tide detergent first started a program called "Loads of Hope." An eighteen-wheeler "semi" was out-fitted with thirty-two energy efficient washers and dryers. With its accompaniment of support vans, Tide's "Loads of Hope" express was able to handle up to three hundred loads of laundry each day. Katrina refugees were offered a place where their laundry could be washed, dried and folded. For free.
Who said it first - "Cleanliness is next to godliness?" If that's true, if cleanliness is next to godliness, then how many of us live in evil houses, drive ungodly cars, and shake unholy hands?
The gift of cleanliness. We don't think about cleanliness until it is gone. Your sink stops up and the dirty dishes start to accumulate until they take over the kitchen. Your washing machine dies and suddenly you have no clean underwear and the laundry room turns into a Fort Knox for funky smells.
Or, worst of all, something in your life breaks - a relationship, a promise, a dream, a hope, a haven - and a snowballing of bad side-effects start stinking up your world more than you could have ever imagined.
We are not clean. We are creatures. And creatures stink and sweat and stain everything we touch with sins and shortcomings...
3. Humor: Goodness and Mercy
A couple retired to a small Arizona ranch and acquired a few sheep. At lambing time, it was necessary to bring two newborns into the house for care and bottle-feeding.
As the lambs grew, they began to follow the rancher's wife around the farm. She was telling a friend about this strange development.
"What did you name them?" the friend asked her.
"Goodness and Mercy," she replied with a sigh.
She was referring of course to a line in everyone's favorite Psalm, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (KJV).

Our lessons for today from Scripture all refer to sheep or shepherds. It is probably the most familiar image in Scripture. God is a shepherd. We are God's sheep. Sheep were important to the agricultural lives of the ancient Hebrews. That is perhaps why sheep are mentioned more than 500 times in the Bible, more than any other animal.  
King Duncan
4. He Knows Our Names
There is an old story of a census taker who was making his rounds in the Lower East Side of New York, who interviewed an Irish woman bending over her washtub. "Lady, I am taking the census. What's your name? How many children have you?" She replied, "Well, let me see. My name is Mary. And then there's Marcia, and Duggie, and Amy, and Patrick, and..." "Never mind the names," he broke in, "just give me the numbers." She straightened up, hands on hips, and with a twinkle in her eye, said, "I'll have ye know, sir, we ain't got into numberin' them yet. We ain't run out of names!" The image of God as the Good Shepherd tells us that is the way it is with God. He knows us by name.
Donald B. Strobe, Collected Words
 5. Sheep Know Their Shepherd
In her book The Preaching Life, Barbara Brown Taylor tells of a conversation she had with a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the Midwest. According to him, sheep are not dumb at all. "It is the cattle ranchers who are responsible for spreading that ugly rumor, and all because sheep do not behave like cows. Cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all. Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, her friend said, but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first-namely, their shepherd-who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right." 
Sheep know their shepherd and their shepherd knows them. 
He went on to say that "it never ceased to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single one of them, while a stranger could not step foot in the fold without causing pandemonium." 
Sheep & shepherds develop a language of their own.
Unknown Source
 6. The Rewards of Loving
 There once was a young woman who had a baby boy. Just after her son's baptism, a ragged old man came to her, and offered to grant her one wish on behalf of her son. Thinking only the best for her baby, the woman wished that her son would always be loved by everyone he met. The old man said, "so be it," and vanished. It turned out just as he said.

As the boy grew, everyone loved him so much that he never lacked for anything. Yet, things did not turn out as expected. As adored and admired as the young man was, he experienced a terrible emptiness within him. He could have anything he wanted, just by asking, but he had no real friends. He never knew the joy of a day's work or an achievement, richly rewarded. His neighbors took care of all his needs. The young man became cynical, jaded and selfish as none of his actions ever brought him any negative consequences.

Finally, the day came when his aged mother died. At the funeral, the same mysterious old man appeared and offered the young man one wish. The young man took him up on his offer and asked that his mother's original wish for him be changed. Rather than being loved by everyone he met, the young man asked the old wizard to give him the power to love everyone he met. And, the story goes, from that day forward he knew happiness such as no one on this earth has ever known.

Keith Wagner, The Promise of Listening
7. Called by Many Voices 
Now if I had to nominate one animal to represent the word mediocre, a sheep would easily be in the top five. Sheep are not independent. They cannot defend themselves like cattle. They are not strong, creative, brave nor will they initiate. They cannot even work up a good stampede. Normally, they just sort of meander. Also, sheep will not be driven, like cattle. They will scatter in a thousand different directions. This type of behavior did not earn the animal any respect on the open range so the ranchers assumed that the animal was dumb. However, a sheep is actually smarter than a cow.

So why does Jesus choose to use a sheep to represent his disciples? Even in ancient society, sheep and shepherds did not garner the respect and admiration of the rich and famous. They did not have a contest to see which shepherd would be the next "Israeli Idol." For us who do not live in an agrarian society, it is even harder to understand. I have never identified myself with a sheep. Popular artists write songs about soaring on the wings of eagles, not grazing with the lambs.

Sheep have one particularly admirable quality. They will follow their shepherd wherever he leads them. They have learned to know him and trust him. They are not easily distracted by another shepherd. Move three flocks into a field, place three shepherds at three strategic points and have each of them issue a call. The sheep will sort themselves. You will not need brands to recognize which sheep belongs to which shepherd. Every animal will only follow his/her shepherd.

The people of God have been placed in a very large field that is often called the world. Many voices are calling us to come and join them. The voice of materialism wants us to deny our faith in the supernatural and believe only in the physical world. The voice of consumerism calls us to fulfill our envy by overspending on vacations, cars, clothing and a home. The voice of entertainment wants to fill our lives with media driven flashes that grab our attention, isolate us from our family and friends and then leave us with nothing but an oversized bill.

John H. Pavelko, The Voice That Calls Us to Follow
 8. Basic Instructions before Leaving Earth
A story is going around the internet right now about a little boy who tells his father that he knows exactly what the Bible means. Of course Dad says, "Oh, yeah. What does the Bible mean." To which the little boy responds: "The Bible means Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth."
I really like that. The Bible is our basic instruction book for life and relationships. Oh, I know, you can't turn to an index and get direct advice about how to deal with your straight A student who suddenly decides they want to pierce their eyebrows or dye their hair clown orange. Or a child who has decided that the only thing they can eat is a diet of quail eggs, jicama, kiwi and tabouli. It doesn't give direct answers about what movies we should let our children see or what curfew we should set for what age. 
But it DOES speak to us of a loving caring God. It IS filled with stories of loving caring parents. It DOES show by example what loving relationships should be like. It DOES tell us the ramifications of disobedience and disrespect. And it DOES talk about grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, and about giving and sacrifice.  
Billy D. Strayhorn, Sometimes They Smell Like Sheep
 9. Stability Zones
In his book, Future Shock, Alvin Toffler explains how, in this modern world of rapid change, confusion and over-choice, we all need some kind of "stability zones" - regular habits, rituals, beliefs - whatever it is that gives us a stable point of reference. It would be difficult to deny the wisdom of Toffler's observation, or to miss its application to the role of religious faith in our lives. The grace of God as revealed in Jesus, the Christ, is surely our ultimate stability zone.
Carl L. Jech, Channeling Grace
10. What Is Unique About Christianity?
The story of Jesus sitting and debating the Law with rabbis reminds me of another debate that took place in a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God became incarnate in human form. But someone quickly said, "Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form." Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.
Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, armful of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, "what's all this rumpus about?" Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, "We're debating what's unique about Christianity." "Oh, that's easy," answered Lewis, “"It's grace."
From Father Tony Kadavil's collection:

Anecdote #I: “I know the Psalm but he knows the Shepherd:” Years ago the great actor Richard Burton was given a grand reception in his childhood parish. While replying to the complimentary speeches in the parish auditorium he asked if there was anything they specially wanted to hear from him. After a minute's pause his old pastor asked him if he could recite the Good Shepherd Psalm, Psalm 23 which he had taught Burton in his Sunday school. A strange look came over the actor's face. He paused for a moment, and then said, "I will, on one condition—that after I have recited it, you, my pastor and teacher will do the same." “I,” said the old and retired pastor “I am not an actor, but, if you wish it, I shall do so.” Impressively the actor began the Psalm. His voice and intonation were perfect. He held his audience spellbound, and, as he finished, a great burst of applause broke from the audience. As it died away, the old pastor rose from his wheelchair and began to recite the same Psalm. His voice was feeble and shivering and   his tone was not faultless.  But, when he finished, there was not a dry eye in the room. The actor rose and his voice quivered as he said, '"Ladies and gentlemen, I reached your eyes and ears, but my old pastor has reached your hearts. The difference is just this: I know the Psalm but he knows the Shepherd." This Good Shepherd Sunday Jesus wants us to know him by experiencing him and to become good shepherds to those entrusted to our care. 
#2: "Who's running the Church, you or the Holy Spirit?"  Here is an anecdote that perfectly conveys the humble spirit of Pope John XXIII as a good shepherd.  On the evening when he announced the opening of the Second Vatican Council -- the first one since 1870 -- he couldn't sleep.  Finally, he called himself to order: "Angelo, why aren't you sleeping?  Who's running the Church, you or the Holy Spirit?  So sleep."  And he did.  Prior to his being elected pope, Angelo Roncalli served as a clerical diplomat in Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece; as Papal Nuncio in Paris; and as Patriarch of Venice.  All this training helped him deal with social problems in society and in the Church.  While still an Archbishop, he noted: "Wherever I go, I pay more attention to what we have in common than to what separates us."  Pope John XXIII began his mission by promising to be "a good shepherd."  He brought a real revolution to the Apostolic Palace by getting rid of the three prescribed genuflections in private audiences and by his impromptu conversations with workers and gardeners on the streets of Vatican City.  He was the first pope in history "to pay tribute to the part played by women in public life and to the growing awareness of their human dignity."  Best of all, by convening the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII, led by the Holy Spirit, set in motion a spirit of reform that continues to our day.  In September of 2000, this son of Italian peasants was beatified.
# 3: Mother Teresa’s Good Shepherd prayer: During her visit to the United Nations several years ago, Mother Theresa was approached by a diplomat who said, “I am not a Catholic, Mother.  But I want to know: how should I pray.”  The frail little nun took his burly hands in hers and spread out five of his fingers on one hand.  “When you pray,” she said, “Think about the many blessings you have received; then, at the end of the day, count out on each finger the words spoken to you by Jesus: You.. did.. this.. for.. me.”  The diplomat left holding up his hand as though it were a trophy and saying: “You did this for me.” In this simple prayer, Mother Theresa made the Resurrection seem real.  What she meant was that the love and peace of the Good Shepherd is present to us in the many moments of compassion that bless our lives:  in kind words, in the listening ear, in generous actions.  Jesus is also present in the blessings we extend to others.  The Good Shepherd of today’s gospel guides us every day in our journey to eternal life.

 #4: The young pastor was teaching the 23rd psalm to the Sunday school children. He told them that they were sheep who needed guidance.  Then the priest asked, "If you are the sheep, then who is the shepherd?"-- obviously indicating himself.  A silence of a few seconds followed.  Then a young boy said, "Jesus. Jesus is the shepherd."  The young priest, obviously caught by surprise, said to the boy, "Well then, who am I?"  The boy frowned thoughtfully and then said, "I guess you must be a sheep dog."
 #5: A man in an Armani suit, Ferragamo shoes, the latest Polarized sunglasses and a tightly knotted power tie emerges from his shiny silver BMW car, approaches a shepherd guarding his flock, and proposes a wager: "Will you give me one of your sheep, if I can tell you the exact number in this flock?"  The shepherd accepts.  "973," says the man.  The shepherd, astonished at the accuracy, says, "I'm a man of my word; take the sheep you have won."  The man picks a ‘sheep’ and begins to walk away.  "Wait," cries the shepherd, "Let me have a chance to get even.  Will you return my animal if I tell what your job is?”  "Sure," replies the man.  "You are an economist for a government think tank," says the shepherd.  "Amazing!" responds the man, "How did you deduce that?”  "Well," says the shepherd, “you drove into my field uninvited.  You asked me to pay you for information I already know, answered questions I haven’t asked, and you know nothing about my business.  Now put down my dog; it is not a sheep.”
Fr. Jude Botelho:
The first reading from the Acts takes us to the scene of Paul and Barnabas preaching at Antioch. The next Sabbath the entire town comes to hear them. Their ministry is a great success and paradoxically that causes a problem! The Jews become jealous of the success of Paul and his companions and start to oppose him and contradict him and find fault with his teachings so Paul leaves town and goes off to the pagans to preach to them. Once again what seems to be a failure turns out to be a blessing. Unfortunately, so often we cannot look beyond what is happening and instead of letting God have his way in our lives we become barriers to God’s action.

Playing Offstage
One night the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the baton of Leopold Stokowski, was performing a Beethoven overture. In it, a part for the trumpet is played offstage. When the time came for the offstage trumpet, there was no sound. Stokowski was furious. Again the time came for the offstage trumpet. Again, there was only silence. After the overture ended, Stokowski stormed offstage to find the trumpet player. There he was his arms pinned to his side by a security guard who said, “This nut was trying to play his horn while your trumpet was going on out there.” Do we not sometimes frustrate God’s plans by failing to recognize Jesus’ role in it?
Mark Link

Today’s Gospel’s brief passage is focused on the image of Christ the Good Shepherd. The point that Jesus wishes to make when referring to himself as the good shepherd is the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep. During Jesus’ time the shepherd was a wanderer who lived mostly on the fringes of the town because his life revolved around his flock. He knew every one of his sheep and called them by name, he moved with them, fed them, protected them, he lived with them and for them. To be the shepherd was not a task or a job but life itself because the Shepherd cared for his sheep. His life was his sheep! In today’s passage Jesus is reminding us that he knows us just as intimately as the shepherd knew his sheep. We may not know him but He knows us. His word reassures us that we belong to Him. He promises us that He alone gives us eternal life. Jesus’ discourse comes from the Jewish feast of the Dedication, a feast celebrating the presence of God in the temple. The temple was not just a building for Israel, it was the visible place where God dwelt with his people. To go to the temple and worship in the temple was to approach God. Now within this setting Jesus teaches a completely different way to God. He stands within the precincts of the temple and boldly proclaims that it is by hearing His voice that one can come to eternal life, and never be lost. One does not approach God through a building, no matter how beautiful or sacred; one does not approach God through laws, rituals and sacrifices no matter how sacrosanct. Jesus is the only way to the Father. Through the ‘voice’ of his teaching, life, death and resurrection, the ways of God are made known to us. The ‘voice’ of Jesus is not just the sound. It is everything about him: his way of life, his loving, his teaching, his dying and his being raised from the dead. Jesus uses the image of the shepherd to make this point. “I and the Father are one.”

True Shepherds
In San Salvador on March 24, 1980 an assassin killed Archbishop Romero with a single shot to the heart while he was saying mass. Only a few moments before, Archbishop Romero had finished a hope-filled homily in which he urged the people to serve one another. Since Archbishop Romero was demanding human rights for his people under oppression, he knew his life was in danger. Still he persisted in speaking out against tyranny and for freedom. He once told newspapermen that even if his enemies killed him, he would rise again among his people, because Archbishop Romero was so devoted to his people in San Salvador, and because he died defending their cause. Good shepherds who lay down their life mean husbands and wives who can’t do enough for each other to demonstrate their devotion; parents who make countless sacrifices for the good of their children; teachers who spend untold hours instructing weak students; doctors and nurses who work untiringly to show they care for their patients; people who are ready to share the little they have with those who have even less; young people who volunteer their free time to take care of the elderly and the disabled; the list could go on… If we belong to Jesus and are members of his flock we are called to shepherd one another, which does not mean control one another but listen to one another and live for one another. We listen to his voice as we listen to the needs of one another and reach out in love. We cannot live with others unless we live for others like Good Shepherds.

The Good Shepherd
A soldier lay dying on a Korean battle field, and asked for a priest. The medic could not find one; but a wounded man lying near, heard the request, and said, “I am a priest.” The medic turned to the speaker and saw his condition, which was as bad as that of the other. “It will kill you to move” he said. But the priest replied, “The life of a man’s soul is worth more than a few hours of my life,” and crawled to the dying soldier. He heard his confession, gave him absolution, and the two died hand in hand.
Anthony Castle in ‘More Quotes and Anecdotes’

Abandoned? Never…

In his book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, Piers Paul Read tells how 16 people escaped safely from an airplane crash in the Andes Mountains in 1972. For 71 days they endured the hostile environment of that rugged, remote mountain terrain before they were rescued. There in the snow with no food and only light clothing, they saw planes fly over the area from time to time, but the planes never spotted them. Then on a transistor they heard the awful news that the official search for the crashed plane had been abandoned as futile. To keep alive they decided to eat parts of the bodies of the dead. Eventually two of the survivors left the crash site to find a way out, and after struggling for ten terrible days they came upon some cowboys. Rescue of the other 14 survivors followed. The story of the Andes survivors tells us something about today’s gospel. Jesus says: “I know my sheep and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me.” In other words, other people may sometimes give up on us, but the Lord never will. Because of the circumstances, the official search for the Andes survivors had to be abandoned, but the Lord never abandoned them.
Albert Cylwicki in “His Word Resounds’

Looking at the positive side of life…
A couple was watching maestro Zubin Mehta’s concert performance in India in 1991. He had a garland of roses around his neck. As he was vigorously conducting the orchestra, the petals dropped to his feet. The husband said, “By the end he will have a thread around his neck. His wife remarked, “Maybe, but when he finishes, he’ll be standing amidst a lovely bed of petals. Do we look at the bare thread or the lovely bed of petals?” The situation maybe the same but the viewpoint may defer from person to person. We need to learn to look at the positive side of everything. God can write straight with crooked lines.
Francis Xavier in ‘Inspiring Stories’

Not without my Daughter  
Some years ago, a book was written, and later made into a movie called ‘Not without my Daughter’, which describes how a mother travelled to the Middle East to get her daughter back, after she had been abducted, and brought there by her Arab father. It is a grueling story of hardship, danger and many narrow escapes. There is something within the mother which drove her to face up to, and go through, any and every obstacle to retrieve her child. She had already been given custody, but her father had kidnapped the child, and had escaped out of England. The whole story is about love within the heart of the mother, which drove her to attempt the impossible, and to go through whatever it took to get her daughter back. To read today’s gospel message certainly comes alive in the story of this mother, who was literally prepared to die, and did actually narrowly escape such a fate on several occasions in her determination to rescue her daughter.
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth’