One of my favourite hymns in relation to pastoral works was composed by Alexcenah Thomas (1857 – 1910), titled: “Bring them in” (Hark! ’tis the Shepherd’s voice I hear…) The hymn talks about the zeal of the Good Shepherd (Christ) who goes out in search of the lost sheep in the dark desert in order to bring them back to the sheepfold from the fields of sin; it also reflects ‘our’ corresponding collaboration to assist the Shepherd in bringing the wandering sheep to Him where they’d be protected from ‘adverse conditions and dangers.’ This sentiment is quite reflected in today’s gospel reading.
In today’s Gospel Reading (cf. 10:11-18), we hear Christ referring to himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the good of his sheep. Needless to say that he goes out against all odds and risks (not minding the dangers and adverse conditions of the dark) to find his lost sheep, and protect it from other wild animals. This analogy must not be understood literarily but metaphorically in reference to man. Apparently, sheep are not only dependent creatures but also unintelligent, prone to wandering and unable to find their way to a shepherd. The analogy is fitting. It is clear, because of our helplessness and our tendency to wander and get lost; necessitating the need of a Good Shepherd to find us and bring us back to the fold. Little wonder the prophet Isaiah (cf. 53:6) reminds us that, “we had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way…” It is striking to note that that in verse 16 of today’s Gospel, Jesus says: “And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock and one Shepherd.” Here, he talks of those who haven’t received the message of salvation yet (the wandered sheep), and the necessity of belonging to the One sheepfold by listening to his voice. In this, we see God’s project of the universality of salvation for the Jews and Gentiles alike. That is what we see in today’s First Reading (cf. Acts 11:1-18).
The first reading illustrates the action of the Holy Spirit on the gentiles (lost sheep) who accepted and welcomed God’s Word. In the end, the Jewish Christians (who earlier reacted against this with prejudice) ‘gave glory to God’, and exclaimed ‘God can evidently grant even the pagans the repentance that leads to life.’ This is exactly the project of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who ‘desires the salvation of all men’ (1Tim. 2:4).
Dear friends in Christ, today’s message warns us against all forms of prejudice towards those who desire to follow Christ. It also encourages us to cooperate with the grace of ‘salvation offered to all’ (Titus 2:11). Inasmuch as the Good Shepherd goes out always in search of us, we must cooperate with his grace; because the ‘Lord who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.’ (St. Augustine). Besides, when the Good Shepherd goes in search of the sheep through the valleys, mountains, hills, etc., he makes a familiar sound as he searches, while the lost sheep, hearing the voice of its shepherd, equally responds to that voice, so that the Master could trace its voice to discover it. Therefore, we are called to respond in a likewise manner to God by making efforts to yearn/long for Him; as today’s psalmist says: ‘Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.’ (Psalm 41(42):2-3,42:3-4).
Above all, may the good Shepherd grant young men and women the grace to collaborate in search of the lost sheep and bring them back to the fold through a zealous engagement in the work of Evangelization.
“O that today, you would listen to his voice, harden not your hearts…”
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
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