If we lived in Israel at the time of Jesus, we would instantly relate to what Jesus told us today in the Gospel. Sheep were the people’s main source of meat, milk and cheese. They provided wool for clothing. And they were regularly used for sacrifice in their liturgy.
If I were to try to think of something in our culture today that would be similar to the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep, the best comparison I can come up with is a mother who needs to care for several toddlers. Just as toddlers depend on their mother’s care, the sheep depend on the care of their shepherd, and the shepherd, who usually, had dozens of sheep, is kept busy all hours of every day.
Today’s gospel makes reference to an activity that was part of the shepherd’s daily routine. Each night, a number of shepherds would come together with their sheep and put them in a common pen. Then they would sleep as one shepherd would stay awake to guard against thieves or predatory animals. In the morning, each shepherd would call out for his own sheep to follow him to pasture. The sheep knew the voice of their own shepherd and would follow only his voice when they were called, and would ignore the calls of the other shepherds. Remember, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.”
Some people are offended to hear themselves compared to sheep. Maybe that’s because they don’t realize they need God’s constant care at all times and not just when they become aware that they have problems or are in need.
We live in a society where everyone is trying to get our attention. We constantly are bombarded with commercials on radio, TV, internet, social media, as well with all kinds of signs, posters and billboards all over highways, streets and buildings trying to catch our eye. Sometimes, we have a tendency to simply follow the latest message we’ve heard, or sometimes, because we hear so many messages, we might be tempted to just follow the crowd. However, if we want to follow Jesus, we have to be able to hear and to recognize His voice, from among the many that are competing for our attention. We have to make a conscious effort to shut out all kinds of noises so that we can listen to Him. If we don’t do so, we can easily lose touch with Him. We need to take time to be quiet, to be still, to pray, so that we can stay in touch with the Good Shepherd.
Our Lord does not want to lose any of us. He wants us to be with Him forever. He wants to wipe every tear from our eyes. He leads us through the Eucharist we celebrate each day and each week. He speaks to us in the Scriptures and He feeds us with His own body and blood. Sheep may not be the most intelligent creatures, but they are smart enough to know that they need their shepherd and to recognize his voice. May we also be intelligent enough to know that we need Jesus and smart enough to recognize His voice so that He might lead us to the eternal pasture of Heaven.