People don’t like being called sheep. When the public is sometimes accused of following this or that fashion just like a bunch of sheep we instinctively want to stand out ourselves and protest that we are not like the rest; we’ve got a mind of our own.
Maybe this is because the sheep or lamb is seen as a cute but rather hapless animal. It simply follows. Would today’s gospel seem easier to swallow if it talked about a faithful dog that listened out for its owner’s voice and followed the owner everywhere?
The scripture readings for the Sundays of Easter were originally targeted at those people who had been baptised at the Easter Vigil and were undergoing their first period of “aftercare” as Christians. They also served as an annual “refresher course” for those who were already members of the believing community. So each of the Sundays celebrates one or more of the key aspects of being a Christian.
Today we hear the word of God reminding us that we are not alone in our faith. It is not something we subscribe to and then are left abandoned in the wilderness. Christ is our shepherd and we belong to his flock which is the Church.
Yet if we are to be the sheep of his flock and enjoy greener pastures and fresh water then we have to listen to his voice. New converts to Christianity have no problem with this since they need no second invitation to discuss and savour their new-found faith. On the other hand, those of us who have been Christians for a longer time are less likely to be aware of the shepherd’s voice calling us in the ordinariness of daily life. Is this because we have lost the spark?
The new Christians are being shown that the authentic voice of the shepherd is to be found in God’s word and in the assembly of believers: in scripture and in the Church community. If they listen out for that voice then Jesus promises that they will never be lost.
But, of course, what applies to new Christians also applies to us too. So where do the rest of us look and listen out for the voice of the Good Shepherd today?