Jn 10.11-18                 AA 4.8-12            1Jn 3.1-2

The big news is that Taylor Swift has released yet another album titled “The Tortured Poets Department” (TTPD), with 15 new tracks.  The reviewer suggests that the enthusiastic Swifty fans had “a focus on each lyric, as if they were listening to a particularly convincing sermon at church”!!!  So, right now, try and tune in now – to me, not to her!  I guess I am too old and out of tune to quite understand the youthful enthusiasm, but it does seem she manages to strike a chord, so to speak, with teenaged angst and uncertainty.  It’s not as if she has a negative message to give, so I say give her a go, and good luck to her, whatever about the sequins! There’s my contemporary comment for the day!

Now for the Good Shepherd discourse, where Jesus identifies as one who cares for each individual one, not like the young chap preparing for First Reconciliation, who suggested that if one of 100 was lost, you could always buy another one, and, after all, what’s 1% in so many?  On Wednesday evening this week we had a Reconciliation Liturgy for 45 or so OLN students, after one for 75 St Therese’s students.  The next step is for me to have a one to one chat in school time to complete the celebration, with confession, penance and absolution. They’re probably a bit young for it all at 7 or 8, but I did it at 6 in 1959, in more scary circumstances, for those who recall Confession back then, in the dark black box, with the grumpy old parish priest or less fearsome curate, usually a young priest back then!  I do think it more effective, as adults who think for ourselves,  when we have our communal parish gatherings for Reconciliation prior to Easter and Christmas.

The sheep metaphor is remote, or a bit dated for us, as the closest I got to it was learning that my maternal grandfather was a wheat and sheep farmer near St Arnaud in the Wimmera, which he leased in 1926, moving to Melbourne when my mum was 4, and he 50, so she could get a good education in the city. My brother Paul was always interested in being a farmer as a child, but the best he could get was a model toy farm!  Now the old farm is part of a Japanese merino conglomerate, so the old days are well gone, and most of us have been far from the farm during the course of our own lives.  The closest we get these days is in the supermarket or a day trip to, or a holiday in the country, but without necessarily appreciating the demands of farming and animal care.

Along the way, in the Gospels, we have the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, simple but meaningful images of salt and light, as Jesus grounds his message in the world around him and us, respecting and caring for our precious environment.

While John’s Gospel is the most esoteric and theological, he does use some of the natural concrete metaphors Jesus must have spoken about to ground his teaching and preaching. John takes the vine and the branches as an image of the need for Jesus’ connection with his believers and followers, while today’s example of the Good Shepherd, caring for his sheep, is a further illustration of his desire to get across the message that he offers care for each, security and meaning to those who respond to him faithfully in word and deed.

And let’s remember shepherds back there were seen as lower class, shabby, unkempt and dirty, but they were first there, in Luke’s Gospel account of Jesus’ birth. As in any scenario, there were good and bad shepherds, attentive and negligent, alike, given the vagaries of human nature.  Yet, Jesus focuses on the image of the one who is always present, caring for each of his flock and offering protection from the threats and dangers surrounding them.

The metaphor has endured, as the terms pastor and pastoral care are universal, not necessarily just in religious terms, in references to care for those in a community, as in parish life, but also those in need, beyond the parish scene, as in hospitals, aged care or the like.  And we all have a part to play in responding to such needs, within families and beyond.  Our baptismal responsibility is ongoing, in living and loving, as Jesus tells us.

Then there is the black sheep, another term used to describe the one who is different, nothing to do with colour, but it’s also clear that the one who is lost, can be the black sheep who is different, or needs to be searched for and found, then welcomed back to the flock, after straying, whatever the reason.  This too can relate to where things have gone wrong in a person’s life and they feel ostracised and isolated, but need forgiveness and another chance.  Once again the message of inclusion is there and welcome to all, whatever the differences or difficulties.

Meanwhile, we hear from Acts of the Apostles that the mission of the early church is taking off with enthusiasm and determination to spread the Good News of the Risen Jesus, and to be strengthened by faith in him, whose presence endures, his people guided by the Spirit, to come officially at Pentecost.  And in the second reading today, John reminds us in direct terms that God’s love for each of us is enduring, as revealed in Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

As Brendan Byrne SJ puts it: “While outwardly life may seem to be taken from him. His surrender to death will be a supremely free act of love, the Good Shepherd giving his life to save his sheep. And the self-giving love that impels him to do this is simply an extension of the love of the Father that lies behind and energises his entire mission.” Jesus knows each of his sheep and is prepared to stay with them and lay down his life for them, as the ultimate sacrifice.

I think you and I could all relate to Claude Mostowik’s concluding comments on today’s Gospel: “We were born to be good shepherds. It means ensuring that we do not lose sight of the sacredness of others. We are called to be a light that makes all the difference, even for a moment, for someone.  May we all find life in the work we do by sowing love and extending kindness.”

john hannon                                                                         21st  April  2024



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