When I was growing up I never saw a live sheep, not even a shepherd. I only saw them in postcards or in movies. For most of us who live in cities and housing estates, we don’t often see many shepherds herding their sheep to market; so, for many of us the language and images of the Gospel today may seem a bit strange. At the time of Jesus shepherds were a part of daily life for many people. When Jesus uses the image and symbol of the shepherd, the people to whom he was speaking would have understood what he was talking about immediately.
But what does the image of Jesus the shepherd mean for us today? While sheep all look the same to us, a shepherd knows each of them individually. When a shepherd calls a sheep, the sheep recognizes the voice and responds. Just as the shepherd knows the sheep, the sheep knows and trusts the shepherd. The shepherd guides and protects the sheep. The sheep go where the shepherd leads them. The image of Jesus as Good Shepherd and the community of followers as his sheep has endured over the centuries as a primary image in our faith tradition. Its power to describe the relationship between Jesus and his followers transcends direct experience with sheep. The image speaks to us about the protection, security, and care that shepherds represent for their sheep.
Today’s Gospel speaks powerfully about the familiarity and intimacy between Jesus and his disciples, expressed as recognizing and knowing another’s voice. Today’s Gospel also speaks to the relationship between Jesus and the Father. In the Gospel of John, Jesus identifies so closely with the Father that he tells us that they are one—not just close, but actually one. To know Jesus is to know the Father. Jesus doesn’t just bring us closer to the Father, Jesus puts us directly into contact with God the Father, removing all distance between us. Our relationship with Jesus is an invitation to share in the life of God.
Jesus does not force us to listen to his voice when he calls us. He invites us to follow him freely. The choice of whether or not to respond is ours. We make take our time in responding, but Jesus will never stop calling us by our name; he will wait until we do respond.
Jesus does not call and ask us to follow him just for the sake of it. He offers us not only the fullness of life; he offers us the fullness of his life. Jesus came so that each of us may have life and have it to the full. This fullness of life is offered to us here and now, not sometime in the future.
As we continue our journey through Easter in preparation for the celebration of Pentecost, may each of us realize how deeply and personally Jesus loves us. When Jesus calls us by our name, may we answer in faith, gratitude, and gratefulness. May we follow where he leads us.
I want to wish all the mothers in our parish community many blessings. Happy Mothers’ day.
Fr. Oscar Mendez, OFM
Pastor, Mission San Luis Rey Parish
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