My six-year-old, who loves animal stories, snuggled in the crook of my arms, impatient for our Bible reading ritual. I began Jonah and the Whale,
Jonah was one of God’s faithful servants. He prayed to God and followed all of God’s commandments. One day, God chose Jonah for a special task. God wanted Jonah to journey to the city of Nineveh. “The people in Nineveh have forgotten me,” God said, “Go to that city, Jonah, and bring my Word to the people.
Maliah sat up. She discarded my embrace. With her palm upheld, she halted the narrative.
“Wait, wait!” she cut in. “Now tell me– how did Jonah know that it was God who was talking to him?”
Perturbed by the interruption and exasperated by her question, I served her parental patience. The pretence crippled my voice. It became condescending.
“Maliah, when a person talks to God every day like Jonah,” I wagged the rod of correction, my index finger, at her, emphasising her lack of resemblance to Jonah. “That person gets to know God’s voice from talking to God all the time. Don’t you know God’s voice yet?” I asked, assuming superiority, “Don’t you sometimes hear God in your head, telling you to do the right thing? To be kind and…”
“The only voice I does hear in my head all the time is yours!” she declared, annoyed.
I know my daughter. She knows my voice. Her familiarity with it breeds the intimacy that fuels our relationship.
The sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. (Jn 10:3)
Traditionally, sheep are known for being ‘real dotish’. Although portrayed in George Orwell’s Animal Farm as possessing the lowest intelligence of all farmyard animals, recent research by Professor Jenny Morton, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge, reveals that sheep are much more intelligent than previously assumed. Professor Morton claims that, “They are quite intelligent animals – they seem to be able to recognise people and even respond when you call their name.”
Imagine that! Sheep can recognise people (their shepherd) and can respond to their names. Aren’t we often thrilled to hear our names? A name identifies us – it roots us, grounds us, makes us belong, makes us ‘knowable’. The government knows us by our ID number but Our Shepherd knows us by name – even if that name has been changed, dropped or ruptured by history.
Sheep also have powerful memories. They know when a fellow sheep is lost in their flock. As parents, spouses, siblings, citizens, friends, priests – we are all simultaneously, sheep and shepherd both.
The Good Shepherd
The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gate keeper lets him in … When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow . . . (Jn 10: 2–4)
The Good Shepherd loves His sheep. He goes ahead to prepare the path, leading by example. He protects, disciplines, defends and directs sheep who need a shepherd, not a slave driver.
Anyone who leads another is a shepherd. As mother, I attempt to lead my questioning lamb to the Good Shepherd. Sometimes sheep stray but as leaders, are we keen to seek lost sheep, willing to defend them against all enemies?
Do we lovingly ‘shepherd’ the struggling sheep –the alcoholic spouse, the pregnant teen, the homosexual son, the drug-addicted neighbour, the porn-addicted friend, the protesting worker?
All wise leaders – whether parents, priests or prime ministers– should examine their leadership attitude and understand the needs of their sheep. With goodness and mercy, Jesus leads sheep towards nourishment (green pastures), restoration (still waters), safety (rod and staff), comfort (anointing with healing oil) and abundance (the cup runneth over).
His sheep know no fear. In contrast, driven by disrespect, do we lead our sheep towards resentment by constant reprimands and ridicule and the desire to witness a crucifixion? “Crucify him! Crucify her!” we shout. “Hang them high! That is justice!” we proclaim.
Thieves & Robbers
… anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand (v1)… The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.” (v 10)
Using short-cuts, thieves climb into enclosed spaces to steal, kill and destroy. We allude to Satan as the thief and rarely conserve that role for ourselves. But when we short-cut a process, rejecting self-reflection on painful processes like divorce, death or infidelity, are we not also thieves?
When we steal time – arriving to work late and signing early, are we not robbers? When students’ abort the learning process and fail to produce quality work, are they not robbing the State of resources spent on them? Driven by greed, envy, jealousy, competition and power, we often steal time, ideas, resources and reputations – destroying self-worth and killing visions in the process.
When we short-cut processes and daily demand crucifixions by spreading rumours, suppressing knowledge, exaggerating claims, exploiting differences, ruining marriages, embellishing truths, posting untruths, violating rights, distorting images, polluting the environment and forwarding fear –aren’t we robbing another of the abundant life our Shepherd promised us all?
Alas! We are sometimes intermittently, often simultaneously – sheep, shepherd, thieves and robbers, all.
The Gospel reflections for May are by Sharon Syriac, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Trinidad & Tobago who belongs to the Gran Couva parish, and is the mother of one presumptuous child.