A Cycle – 4th Sunday of Easter 20
Jn. 10: 1-10
I am willing to bet that most of us know nothing about shepherding sheep. For a long time in my life, my only encounter with sheep was to observe them in the fields bordering the interstate highways. It seemed they like other livestock in the fields, were released in the morning to graze. As night approached, they instinctively began to migrate back to the safety of the pen constructed by the owner of the sheep.
We know the scriptures use the sheep as a metaphor for us. We are the flock of the good shepherd. Listen to these verses. “When Jesus comes in his glory…. he will separate the sheep from the goats…the sheep he will place on his right” (Mt. 25: 31-33). “As for you my flock, …I will judge between one sheep and another (Eze. 34:17). “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, preaching as you go saying the Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 10: 5-6). These are just a few of the many references about sheep, but you get the point we are the sheep Jesus came to shepherd.
Why is it so difficult for us to respond to the things God desires for us to experience, embrace, and encounter during our life here on earth? God sent Jesus so to “bring us life and life in abundance” (Jn. 10:10). Jesus did not die on the cross in vain. No, he died so we would have available to us a life filled with hope, joy, peace and the certainty of never being abandoned by God. Yet, we seem to continue making the mistake of desiring less than what God desires to give. We continue to struggle through life content to spend eons in purgatory and eventually one day gaining admittance to heaven.
It seems we would prefer to get by with little rather than live in the promised abundance of grace offered to us by God. Jesus opens this story of the shepherd by reminding us he is the one who opens the gate and calls us to follow him. Have you ever paid attention to the fact Jesus says, “he drives them out?” The fact he must drive us out of the sheepfold provides us with an image of our lethargy, our hesitancy to move without seeing any benefit beyond what we can see in the sheepfold.
Why is it we would prefer to stay in the sheepfold, a place where there is nothing of the abundance found in the pastureland Jesus desires us to dwell. Have we not learned the lessons of trusting in God? Remember the Exodus, when the Israelite’s reach the promised land in a short period of time. A land of milk and honey promised to them by God, and twelve scouts are sent in the survey the land to determine if it is just as God has promised. They were sent to discover what it was like, what are the people like, could they overcome the people? What is the land they stood on the verge of entering anything like God promised? Can they conquer the people who live there? You can read the account of this story in Numbers Chapter 13 and it is worth the few minutes it will take you to read the story.
But as those twelve entered the promised land they had to face the same issue which lies before us as we attempt to be faithful believers. Do we take the step beyond what we currently experiencing, and trust God will deliver what he promises? Can we take a step into the unknown and experience the things God desires for us? The truth is we must have a desire for the more God desires to give us in order to leave the comfort of the sheepfold.
What was the result of those twelve after they surveyed the land? Twelve were chosen to go into the land and scout it. One man from each tribe. After 40 days, ten of the twelve reported the people were too strong and too large to overcome; the cities were so strongly fortified there is no chance the Israelite’s could overcome them.
Only Caleb of the tribe of Issachar and Joshua of the tribe of Nun, said God has promised the land to them and they could enter and be victorious because God was with them. The good shepherd had opened the gate for them, but they refused to follow the shepherd into the land flowing with milk and honey. The result was God told them they would spend one year wandering in the wilderness for every day hey spent surveying the land. They experienced hardship because they did not have the courage nor the desire to overcome their lack of belief in God’s promises.
Years ago, in a visit to Australia a Christian man I greatly admired brought me to a sheep ranch. He wanted me to grasp some images given to about the good shepherd and us the sheep. That visit ingrained in me an understanding of our reluctance, our stubbornness and our unwillingness to trust God.
Imagine the sheepfold and the land beyond the sheepfold. The sheepfold is a protected fenced in area which offers the sheep shelter, water, safety and the comfort of the flock. Inside the sheepfold there is little to eat and each morning the sheep are driven out of the fold. Yes, driven out so they could go to the fields to forage. The lands by the way are not as lush as the grazing land needed by cattle or horses. The rancher told me sheep can survive on scant weeds and scattered clumps of grass which exists in that part of Australia.
The point of us understanding sheep are reluctant to move out is to understand our own reluctance to seek what God desires us to experience. We like the sheep are content to survive but God want us to thrive. To experience the things God offers us, we must leave the comfort and safety of what we know and venture into the unknown.
Why is it we ignore the lessons Jesus is giving us through the scriptures? We should make them an integral part of our own private spiritual growth. Instead we get sidetracked and we get upset about our parish not offering palms on Palm Sunday? God is offering us something more tangible in order to grow spiritually. However, we like sheep are willing to settle for dry parched grass instead of seeking the promised blessings offered us by God. Today’s image of the shepherd is one of many which challenges us to make a choice – trust God and follow him. Or to back away from committing to follow the shepherd because we cannot see beyond the obstacles.
Will we follow or will we ignore the call to follow? Will we be the one sheep that listens, the Caleb and the Joshua’s who believe in the promised of God?
Or will we settle for wandering in the wilderness?