Friday, 24 May 2019

Poor little lambs who lost their way

THIS coming Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Eastertide, is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because that is the main theme of the biblical readings chosen for the day.

“I am the Good Shepherd,” says Jesus. “I know my own and my own know me.”

These words take me back many years to a day when I was walking in the hills outside Rome. I came across a watering hole where many sheep were drinking and their shepherds were chatting together, four or five of them. There was a bit of a pong in the air, I can tell you!

Their flocks were all mixed up but when a shepherd was ready to move on, he simply walked ahead a few yards, turned and called his sheep and the sheep that were his recognised his voice and followed him.

“The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice,” said Jesus. “I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life. They will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me.”

He takes the title “shepherd”. He does not say, “I am the commander-in-chief” or “I am the boss.” He takes a title that was and is precious to the Jews.

The book of Exodus records that Moses was shepherding sheep when God appeared to him in the burning bush.

Four hundred years later, the shepherd boy David appears on the scene, succeeds Saul as king and rules in relative peace for 40 years, the very model of a shepherd-king.

“So, you are a king, then?” said Pilate when Jesus was on trial before him.

But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. He prefers to be known as a servant who suffers or a shepherd who cares. Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose. Near restful waters he leads to revive my drooping spirit. He guides me along the right path; he is true to his name. If I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would I fear. He is there with his crook and his staff; with these he gives me comfort.

One year, Good Shepherd Sunday fell on May 1. I had been invited to speak at mass in the Oxford University chaplaincy.

First, though, we had the May Day celebrations at six o’clock in the morning on the bridge outside Magdalen College.

I was delighted to see and to hear the choir of the college punting up the river towards us singing madrigals.

The students were still in a good mood when mass began at eleven o’clock. When it came to the sermon, I told them that I had been advised to incorporate a quotation or two from great literature “appropriate to the education and culture of the congregation.”

So I had a think and then said, “We are poor little lambs who have lost their way, baa, baa, baa.” And the students joined in! The “baa, baa, baa” could be heard around the city later in the day, especially where ale was being consumed.

The coming Sunday may you hear his voice: may it bless your conscience, warm your heart and lift your soul as you make your pilgrim way through life into the fullness of life and love in the heavenly kingdom.

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