The Lord is My Shepherd

 

Sean Coghlan, S.J.

 

 

Recently I heard a story about an Australian doctor who was planning to retire.  He had bought a piece of land and was beginning to grow a few things and to buy a few animals.  One day he saw that a conference for sheep farmers was being held locally, so he went along out of interest.

 

Calling His Flock By Name

He was having a beer in the lobby of the hotel when a tall, rugged, sun-burnt character sat down beside him and ordered a drink.  The newcomer asked the doctor where he was farming and how many sheep he had.  “Three” said the farmer-to-be rather proudly.  “Oh, I see” was the devastating reply, “and what names do you call your sheep?”.

            I suppose to a farmer who had 18,000 sheep spread over, perhaps, a couple of hundred square miles of ‘outback’ three sheep must have seemed a very small flock indeed.  With three sheep he probably reckoned one could be on first name terms.

 

Jesus Our Shepherd

In the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel we are told that Jesus calls his sheep by name.  The situation presupposed in the Gospel is a walled enclosure sheltering several different flocks for the night.  As each shepherd comes along in the morning, he calls his sheep and they come out to follow him for the day.

            Jesus calls you by name.  Imagine it!  Yes, do.  Do please imagine Jesus calling you by name.  What name would you like him to call you by?  What name do you like to be called by those you love?  Let Jesus call you by that name and you will soon begin to believe in the great love God has for you through Jesus your shepherd.

            But we have to remember that there is a stern side to Jesus’ calling us by name.  He calls us not just to peace and intimacy.  He calls us to peace and intimacy through conversion and repentance.

            As early as Mark 1:15, and, echoing John the Baptist, Jesus called out, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel”.

 

Original Sin

We are sinful people needing to be saved.  Sin is part and parcel of our very nature.  We have to be turned upside down and inside out.  We need a change of mind, heart, outlook and direction.

            Recently I looked up the word ‘Politics’ in the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’.  It said very little about politics.  But the paragraph is worth reading for what it says about sin, quoting Pope John Paul II: “The doctrine of original sin, closely connected with that of redemption by Christ, provides lucid discernment of man’s situation in the world.  By our first parents’ sin the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free.

            Original sin entails captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is the devil.  Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature, inclined to evil, gives rise to serious errors in the area of education, politics, social action and morals.”

 

Education is not enough

Having been teaching and administering in schools for over twenty years, I am quite skeptical when I hear confident assertions that the solution to all our problems of juvenile delinquency, lack of respect and motivation on the part of our students is a better educational system.  I am skeptical, at least, if by education we merely mean efficient communication of masses of information, mastery of the computer, teaching positive thinking.

            Somehow God’s grace must flow into any system, so that in a moment of honest despair we may not have to call out with St. Paul, “I do not the good I want, but the evil I do not want, is what I do”.  We need a change of heart before we act on the wonderful things we hear in the classroom.  What hope for Israel and Palestine despite all the conferences and all the international pressure, unless God softens hearts, making hearts of flesh out of hearts of stone?

            In his first letter, St. Peter tells us that Jesus is the shepherd and guardian of our souls.  There is a slight danger in the name, ‘shepherd’ – it suggests a good shepherd in a stained glass window carrying a cuddly lamb on his shoulders.  A shepherd has to be strong and courageous and has to have some persuasive power when his sheep stray.

 

The Shepherd’s Demands

I felt very moved the first time I saw a Gospel-like shepherd leading his sheep.  It was on a high, dry plain in Spain. I rushed excitedly to the roadside when I heard the bells.  There, indeed, was the shepherd leading his flock.  However, honestly makes it necessary to admit that behind the flock was a quite efficient looking dog who, with the odd warning bark and the occasional judicious nip brought the laggards and strayers back to the main flock.

            Jesus is the shepherd and guardian of our souls.  He loves us and died for us, but he can make demands on us.  He wouldn’t be much of a shepherd if he couldn’t.  Thanks to Him we can find our way through the mazes and thickets of the world to honest, joyful, generous and forceful living with God and our fellow men and women.

            The name ‘shepherd’ had a long and honorable history in the Old Testament.  The shepherd was the loving, caring king of the people.  He was their protector and judge.  The Loyalty to him was rewarded by overwhelming loyalty on his part to them.  That loyalty was an essential element of his noble nature.

            So the good shepherd is a strong, loving figure once we know who He really is, what He really asks of us and what He really promises.  He wishes to win our glad obedience, not a grudging, sullen service or childish dependency.

            In such an understanding of Jesus, we can, without embarrassment, pray,

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.