Fourth Sunday of Easter (2015)
By Fr. Leroy Clementich, CSC
Odd as it may sound to modern ears, let me say right up front that I have long had a great affection for wolves and coyotes. There is a certain familial instinct they have to stay together and for the females to protect their young from other predators. Both wolves and coyotes have this distinctive howl that tells other species the stay clear from the latest meal they have managed to bring down.
Of course, if you happen to be a sheepherder contracted to keep a huge flock of sheep safe from these lovely animals out in the wilds of Wyoming, you have a problem: it’s man against beast; but let me tell you, the beasts will win the battle every time. They have become very clever at staying alive over countless ages in the wild.
Let me tell you that I have personally observed the on-going battle between the animals and local herders; I am torn in my affection for both. Wolves and coyotes need to eat to stay alive and they are clever at accomplishing this. At the same time, the Basque shepherds are saddled with the responsibility of keeping the owner’s sheep safe. If they tell you that it’s not about money…it’s really about money, about making a livng.
I imagine the ongoing battle between wolves and shepherds has been going on for centuries; at least that is what we can surmise from reading the scriptures for this Fourth Sunday in Easter season. Unfortunately, the story Jesus told about being a good shepherd leaves the wolf in a precarious situation, sigh. Even in Jesus time, there was seemingly an ongoing battle between wolf and man. I must imagine, however, that Jesus probably had no personal animosity toward these good animals. His intent was to say something meaningful about the relationship between sheep and shepherds.
Even today, I am told, shepherding is a common way of life in the deserts of the Middle East; the situation is hardly any different than today: someone needs to protect the flock. Jesus is simply using this common way of life to say something about his own relationship between himself and the people who had begun to attach themselves to his teaching and his way of life. In other words, in using this shepherd-wolf metaphor, Jesus is saying, “This is the way I would like to be known among you, as someone who cares about you, who will protect you as best I can; I will teach you the way of God’s kingdom. Metaphorically, that is what a shepherd does.
Most Christians who have heard the good shepherd story countless know that it speaks of the relation between Jesus Christ and the Church and churches, the flock. They also know intuitively that the “flock” does not simply refer to a bunch of lost and aimless people wandering about without spiritual care or attention. They know that they are Church, the flock that Jesus still loves and whom he wishes to shepherd by way of those who have accepted the task and responsibility of passing on the message of Jesus to each succeeding generation. They are named, Pope Francis, bishop, pastor, minister, laypersons who have heard Jesus call to lead in a humble pastoral manner.
The point of the shepherd-sheep metaphor is that all of us intuitively feel more safe, secure and spiritually cared for when we know that someone personally has promised to give us insight in our faith and in our quest for eternal life. This is simply the way the life of the spirit has developed over the millennia. We find our way to God through the help of those who have promised to use their skill, their faith and love to help us along the way toward God.
One last word about my friends the wolves and coyotes: I have seen videos of mothers diligently caring for their young, “shepherding” them into hidden places where no enemy may find them. It is truly an emotional thing to witness. I think even Jesus would have been overwhelmed with compassion had he witnessed this mother’s care for her young. In any case, it is all about true shepherding no matter whose side you happen to be on.
The scriptures: Acts 4: 8-12 • John 3: 1-2 • John 10: 1-4
USCCB Bible Daily Readings: Fourth Sunday of Easter