My experience with sheep is limited. I have watched them grazing from a distance. I’ve walked among them on my uncle’s farm and found them skittish and aloof. I am allergic to wool.
Most of what I’ve heard about sheep is unflattering. They are reputed to be stupid, lacking in initiative and likely to fall over cliffs or entangle themselves in brush. They are not playful. Lambs have a winsome charm, but the adult animal is a little boring. Rams are distinguished by their horns. Although there may be some variation in color, most sheep resemble every other sheep in the flock. To see one sheep is to have seen them all.
And there is no such thing as an independent or self-made sheep. A sheep needs the shepherd to guide and care for it and – in dire straits – to rescue it. There is nothing sentimental about this relationship: for the sheep it is a matter of survival, and for the shepherd a matter of economy. The sheep are valuable property, not pets to be cuddled.
In our Gospel today, Jesus names himself the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd knows his sheep as individuals. Each one is worthy of his care and attention. Today, let us rest a bit in what the Good Shepherd offers us when we live the paschal mystery. For all our efforts to dying to self for the sake of the other, they do not equal the gift of self that Jesus gives us.
Let us rest a bit this Sunday, basking in Jesus’ care and protection, listening to his voice calling us to his loving embrace, This, too, is living the paschal mystery.