Today we hear some of the most beloved readings of the church year. We think mostly of the Gospel parable and the 23rd psalm, but there is also the readings from Acts and I John. The readings we think of most are the ones that show what God will do for us. The others concern our call in light of God’s good gifts and great sacrifice. That we should think of our calls today is no accident. In fact today is the day many Roman Catholics pray for those who are considering religious vocation. By extension I would think any day that would have us consider our callings should be a good day to pray for vocation whether it is a life in the church, the family or any other of those many temporal places that also belong to God. And all places belong to God. As God has claimed us and given us so good a protector as Christ Jesus who saves us from so many snares, not the least of which is death, then we must ask ourselves what it is God calls us to that we may be like the Good Shepherd. That is what must we do to be as Christ?
The reading from I John says that this great thing has not been revealed to us. If we walk away from this thinking that because we have not had this revelation we can ignore our calling, then we fail to hear the reading for what it is, which promises us such a revelation will occur. In short this passage is telling us the need to be open to that revelation, to listen to the voice of God and to know that God does indeed speak to us. When such a thing happens “we will be like Him.” How terrifyingly awesome! I cannot on my own comprehend how such a life may look, but I do have Scripture and the life of the Church to lead me in that direction.
The epistle itself gives us a path to this discernment. It speaks of love and a fellowship with God. When we seek these things then we can turn again to the Gospel reading and ponder on the parabolic nature of the text. Here Christ is the Good Shepherd and we are His sheep. How wonderful to have this reliance, to know that we are not going it alone. This is the assurance of today’s reading. But this is a parable and just as Christ assures us that He will always be there to claim us as His own, He also says He has other sheep. He says He must tend to these that there be one flock and one shepherd. The Good Shepherd has laid down His life to take it up again and yet there are other sheep who do not know so great a thing. Here is where the challenge of the text comes and we can find the answer to the challenge in the epistle reading.
For just as the Good Shepherd is not like the hired man who abandons the sheep, we are told that we are to take up the active righteousness of love and fellowship so that we may be like the Good Shepherd and not the hired man. For we have been given the revelation of Christ’s sacrifice and in this revelation we know we are to be like Him. We may not know the fullness of such a great thing, but we do know it in some fashion. Knowing such a thing we should not be content to let the other sheep wander lost. We who have heard His voice should speak His words that the other sheep should come to Him. Certainly this is no small thing. Our embarrassment and the misguided examples of far too many may keep us from the task, but we must also look to others who did do very much to spread the good news. As I read the poignant letters of Dietrich Bonhoeffer I am reminded that he gave up the vocation of fatherhood and temporal love to call to the lost sheep. I also remember the impact of the Xavier Beauvois film “Of Gods and Men” where the Trappist monks of Tibhirine went beyond their call to the point of martyrdom itself. If such great personalities can be so much like the Good Shepherd, what cost should there be to us to only speak His words and to love His lost sheep?
We know Him. We know His sacrifice. We can revel in the joy that brings knowing we rest in the care of our fierce and loving protector. We can also be true to the call that it brings knowing we are an Easter people who should desire that all people be Easter people.
Image: Good Shepherd, Creative Commons license by Friar Balsam