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1 May 2022

The Gospel. St. John x. 11.

Jesus said, I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and know my sheep, and am known of mine, even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.

No one wants to be called a sheep.  When we hear that sort of name-calling, it’s an insult.  Being called a sheep in this world means we are being accused of blindly obeying a leader or a set of principles that will be our undoing.  “Think for yourself,” they tell us.  Americans take pride in their self-reliance, but when we look at our society today, where exactly has our independence of mind led us?  If we aren’t sheep, what are we?

Biblically, one answer is goats.  Unlike sheep, goats are usually  solitary, independent, and sure footed going into dangerous places for that better tuft of grass.  Goats are notoriously stubborn and known to butt heads over territory or a particularly attractive female goat.  You remember, in the old cartoons, the goat’s stubborn face as he eats the label from the tin can.  But maybe the most disturbing aspect of the goat is the eyes—almost Satanic.  For whatever reason, St. John depicts the goats as being separated from the sheep on Judgment Day representing the unrepentant sinners, those who have cut themselves off from God.

There is another alternative to the sheep—the wolf.  The wolf is always hungry.  Traveling in packs, the wolves are anxious for easy prey—something they can overcome by their numbers—the old, the sick, and the untended young.  A sheep that strays too far from the flock is a natural victim for the wolves of this world, animal or human.  Wolves have even been known to attack men, women, and children.  That is why the wolves were nearly eliminated in our country. 

There is a third alternative to the sheep—the shepherd.  The good shepherd is one who truly cares for his sheep, not someone just hired to do a nominal job and run at the first appearance of danger.  In Biblical times, Jesus’ image of the good shepherd was a part of everyday life.  We think especially of the 23rd Psalm.  Abel tended flocks.  Moses tended his father’s-in-law sheep.  King David was a shepherd.  Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all speak of God as the faithful shepherd of Israel.  Ezekiel also speaks of false shepherds, and Jeremiah tells of marauders who scatter the sheep of God’s pasture. 

The good shepherd knows each of his flock.  To others, the sheep may all look alike, but he knows each of them at a glance.  Jesus says, “I know my own.  And they know Me.”  Jesus also says that there are other sheep that are His that He hasn’t even met yet.  Each of these other sheep come with an immortal soul and an intense yearning for God as they face the difficulties of life on this earth.  Each of us looking for answers and falling into sin and foolishness when we act without His guidance--like sheep without a shepherd. 

"Where does Jesus Christ get his sheep?" The answer, of course, is from his Father. The sheep belong to the Father, who created them for Himself through His Son and by the Holy Ghost. The sheep are the faithful, to whom God has decided before all time to give the grace of faith, thus separating them from the goats.

On this day, you and I will offer God an obedient heart and soul and will follow after His Good Shepherd.  We always have a choice.  We can be part of the flock with Abraham, Moses, David, Ezekiel, and all the saints. Or we can be part of those that deny Him. Let us make the right choice and show that we belong to God in Christ and follow the Good Shepherd wherever He leads. 

Bishop Ed Tompkins


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