The Lord says, “My sheep hear my voice…” That’s right, He called you a sheep. Now come on, get a little indignant with me here! The Lord is comparing us, not to the swift eagle, the beautiful gazelle, the swift horse, the powerful bear, the mighty lion, or the clever dog. No, He looks at us as says we’re like sheep. Hmm … While reality may hurt, the truth can also liberate. For the fact is that although sheep are lowly animals, they are valuable as well. Let’s consider today’s Gospel in three stages: the sign of the sheep, the safety of the sheep, and the salvation of the sheep.
I. The SIGN of the sheep – The text of today’s Gospel begins, Jesus said: “My sheep …” What does the Lord mean in using sheep as a sign for us? Let’s consider some qualities of sheep that may help to illustrate what the Lord is teaching.
- Sheep are WAYWARD. They just tend to wander off. A sheep just grazes awhile and then looks up and thinks, in effect, “Where am I?” A sheep will nibble here and there and get lost. It doesn’t know how to get back to the sheepfold unless the shepherd goes out and brings him back. Sheep just keep on going and don’t come back. Dogs and cats can find their way home. Horses can find the barn. But not sheep. They don’t know how find the sheepfold without the shepherd guiding them.
Now don’t tell me that this doesn’t describe us! Like sheep, we have gone astray, each following his own way (Isaiah 53:6). This is how it is with us. We get lost easily. We need the sheepfold of the Church and we need the Shepherd, who is Christ, ministering through the Pope, bishops, and priests. Otherwise, we just wander around.
- Sheep are WITLESS. – That is to say, they are just plain dumb. Have you ever heard of a trained sheep? I haven’t. We train dogs, birds, horses, and even lions. But sheep cannot be trained!
We human sheep like to think that we are so smart. We’ve been to the moon. We have all this technical computer stuff. But too many of us aren’t even smart enough to pray every day, go to Mass on Sunday, or follow God’s basic directions for life.
We’re so witless that we even do things that we know harm us. Even when it comes to the simplest directions from God, we either get confused or become downright stubborn. We cop an attitude and say, “Well we know a few things, too.” That’s exactly right; we know a very few things!
We’re so dumb that we think we’re smarter than God! We think we have a better way than His way. Now that is really dumb!
- Sheep are WEAK. A sheep just has no way to protect itself. A mule can kick, a cat can scratch, a dog can bite, a rabbit can run, and a skunk … well, you know what it can do. But a sheep? Without the care of the shepherd and the sheepdogs, a sheep is history. When a wolf comes all a sheep can do is stand there and get killed.
And so it is with us. If it were not for the care of Jesus the Good Shepherd, the world, the flesh, and the devil would have us cornered. If it were not for the Lord and the power of His grace, we would be toast!
We like to think that we’re strong. We have armies. We amass political power, monetary power, and “star power.” All of this gives us the illusion that we are strong. But then the slightest temptation arises and we fall. We need the Lord. Without His grace and mercy, we don’t stand a chance because alone, we are weak and prone to sin.
And yet …
- Sheep are WORTHWHILE animals. In Jesus’ day, many a man counted his wealth by the number of sheep he had. Sheep produce lambs and provide us with milk, wool, and meat. Shepherds made many sacrifices in Jesus’ day to breed, herd, and protect these valuable animals. And so it is with us. We may not feel worthy at times, but apparently we were worth saving, because the Lord paid the price of our redemption. He saw the price and paid it all. And He didn’t pay it with silver and gold but with His own precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).
- Sheep WALK together. Sheep flock together for safety. To be a solitary sheep is dangerous; it’s a good way to get devoured.
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). The scriptures also say, Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up (Eccles 4:10). Sheep are not supposed to go off on their own; neither are we.
We are called to part of a flock and to be under the care of a shepherd. Most of us realize this in a parish setting. But in the wider sense, we are under a bishop’s care and ultimately the care of the Pope, who is the chief shepherd and the Vicar of Christ the Good Shepherd.
The Lord Jesus said there is to be one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16). God wants us to be in the protection of the flock with a shepherd watching over us. An old spiritual says, “Walk together children. Don’t you get weary. There’s a great camp meeting in the promised land.” Too many people like to say, “That old pope doesn’t know this or that.” But again, please consider that to wander from the care of the flock and the Shepherd is a mighty dangerous thing.
- Sheep are WARY. Jesus says, He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers (John 10:11-14).
Sheep have the remarkable ability to know their master’s voice and to instinctively fear and flee any other.
In this matter, sheep are smarter than are most of us. For we often do not flee voices contrary to Christ. Instead, we draw close and say, “Tell me more.” In fact, we spend a lot of time and money to listen to other voices. We buy big televisions that give the enemy a medium through which to influence us and our children. We spend large amounts of time watching television, listening to the radio, and surfing the Internet.
Yes, we can so easily be drawn to the enemy’s voice. And not only do we not flee it, we feast on it. Instead of rebuking it, we turn and rebuke the voice of God, putting His Word rather than the world on trial.
The goal for us is to be more wary, like sheep; to recognize only one voice, that of the Lord speaking though His Church, and to flee every other voice.
II. The SAFETY of the sheep – The Gospel continues, My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
Note the promise that Jesus will not be overpowered; no one can snatch from His hand. Daniel 7:14 says, His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that shall not be destroyed, his kingship shall not be destroyed. In other words, the devil can’t steal sheep; in no way can he have power over Jesus or His flock.
But this is all predicated on what has been said: if we want protection and safety, we have to know only Jesus’ voice. We must stop running after false shepherds and enticing voices. We have to stay with the true Shepherd, Jesus, and remain in the protection of the flock. Do you want safety? Then stay in the shelter of Jesus’ shepherding.
Let us be clear on this point: no weapon fashioned against us can ever prevail (Isaiah 54:17). Satan cannot harm any of us, unless we open the door. Satan is like a dog on a leash: he can only harm us if we get too close (through our own foolish decisions). Satan is a chained dog; he does not stray out of his range or territory!
Yet so many people do open the door! They savor pop culture (with all its darkness), peruse pornographic websites, live on a steady diet of revenge-filled “action” movies, and watch endless commercials telling them to buy the latest product with its promises of empty fulfillment. They swim in polluted water and then wonder why they are sick and weak, infested with the parasites of sin.
Is it any wonder that our thinking is distorted, dark, unbiblical, and foolish? At least sheep know enough to flee a false shepherd! What about us? Too many of us are intrigued by the ranting of false shepherds. We glamorize evil and fill our minds with false teaching and improper priorities.
And thus while no one can snatch from Jesus’ hand, this does not provide some magical protection that prevents us from foolishly and sinfully walking away from Him. And if we do walk away, woe unto us. If we stray, our strength will fail!
Pay attention, fellow sheep: do not stray from the Shepherd. He can protect you. But if you want to live a double life or open the door of your heart to Satan, understand that the protection of the Lord is only for those who freely choose it. The Lord is not a slave owner. He is a lover who invites us to accept His offer of new life rooted in a loving and trusting relationship with Him.
Do you know His voice? Do you know only His voice? Do you run form every voice contrary to His? If so, then you have the protection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and nothing will ever harm you (Luke 10:19). Or do you instead collect counselors who tell you what your itching ears want to hear? (cf 2 Tim 4:3) If you do that, then you shouldn’t be surprised at the presence of wolves.
III. The SALVATION of the sheep – The text goes on to say, I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
For the flock of the Lord, there is the gift of eternal life. Too many Christians equate eternal life with some far off, distant future that they vaguely hope to attain.
But eternal life doesn’t refer only to living forever and never dying. Eternal life is so much more than that! It begins now. And eternal refers not only to length of life but to its fullness.
In this sense, eternal life is now, as we become ever more aware that If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). Of this I am a witness, being far more alive in my fifties than I ever was in my early twenties! My body is aging, but my soul is younger and more vibrant than ever.
And here is the promise to lay hold of: those who are in the Shepherd’s care gradually come to experience life more deeply, to become more fully alive. Jesus our Shepherd promises us eternal life. But this does not wait until Heaven; it is now. We sheep are brought to salvation, to healing, if we will accept it. If we choose freedom and the Shepherd’s care, it is ours! But if we reject some or all of it, then we live apart from His care and vision, and leave ourselves vulnerable to the attacks of savage wolves.
Are you smarter than a sheep? Do you know how to recognize the Shepherd’s voice and follow only Him? Or are you foolishly running after worldly advice and pursuing sinful priorities? On this Good Shepherd Sunday, strive to be a good sheep.
Yes, He called us sheep. But sheep have this much going for them: they recognize only their shepherd’s voice and run from any other.