The other sheep will also listen...

POST BY PGallagher

Jesus, the good shepherd, knows that people need him and will be receptive to his teaching if they are allowed to hear it properly. The other sheep also will listen to my voice [1].  The Lord speaks clearly but we often have to learn how to listen to him.  We are sometimes slow to do so. Those who know Jesus well can grow dull in their comprehension. Those who have never previously heard him can miss the import of his commands.  These last can be presented too peremptorily or too mildly. Eager to present faithfully to others the Lord and his teaching, we let him down without meaning to do so.  There are mistakes of emphasis.  We often fail to communicate the essential.  The witness of a life consistent with the faith professed can be lacking.  Nevertheless, the mission of Christ is carried forward by our sharing word of him with the other sheep.   It is his voice and tone they need to catch. However, he makes use of us, his followers, to attract and even to hold their attention.

I am the good shepherd: I know my own and my own know me [2]Despite our mistakes, we continue to receive God’s reliable help both for our own life of faith and for our evangelism.  The Lord enables us to share our faith with others in a way that does mislead them.  His knowledge of us, our strengths and weaknesses, our virtues and sins, is pat of his shepherding.  We could be wolves, but are not, thanks to his care.  He searches us out when we stray. We could be mere hirelings, abandoning he sheep and running away [3] at the first danger.  The one, who has made us his own, confers on us the courage that he himself possesses.  The willingness to face the wolf is part of knowledge of him.  My own know me, he says, not flattering us but explaining our vocation.  Knowing Christ is an unmerited gift yet we devote ourselves to being ready to receive it.  It is their impression that we truly know him which draws others to listen to us in a way which allows them to hear his voice. They too will listen to my voice [4].

The Jesus to whom old and new members of the flock are delighted to listen is a shepherd who speaks authoritatively [5]. He tells us what to do.  He protects us from the wolf.  He leads us to pasture and meets our real needs [6].   The flock lives under his direction in a way that persuades others to join it [7].  His authority, however, is not only in his teaching but also in his life, death and resurrection.  These experiences and events do not simply happen to him or carry him along.  He has chosen them. I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me: I lay it down of my own free will [8].  The paschal mystery reveals to us a Christ who is obedient to the Father. He shows us how to be sons and daughters of God in the same mould, doing not our own will but the will of the One who made us.  The obedience that Jesus teaches and exemplifies is not passive or fatalistic.  It is much more than mere conformity.  The Lord rose from the dead in accordance with the Father’s will, but he nevertheless chose to do so.  It was in my power to take my life up again: and this is the command I have been given by my Father [9].  The flock is obedient to a shepherd who shows them a better than sheep-like way of following him.  Risen, he empowers his followers to live so as to proclaim his unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Catching his voice and command we are enabled to stand up perfectly healthy [10].

Peter and John, having healed the man who was begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, confidently explained themselves to the Council. Filled with the Holy Spirit [11], Peter spoke in a way which allowed the good shepherd to be heard once more loud and clear.  With the authority of the master, he gave an account of himself and the One on whom his life was now securely founded.  On Calvary, it might have seemed that the wolf had devoured the lamb of God. Certainly the flock had been scattered.  We continue to be fragmented and frightened.  Yet we are redeemed by the name of Jesus.  His is the only name by which we can be saved [12].  Could those listening hear not only the apostle but also the good shepherd?  He was preaching to the wolves about the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead [13].  When Jesus speaks in his followers wolves become lambs.  Our un-sheep-like behaviour arises not only from the intelligent obedience conferreed on us but also from our having been converted from being the enemy of ourselves and the rest of the flock.

The Council, which Peter and John confronted so valiantly, would need further persuasion.  Our sharing of our faith in Christ is never done once and for all.  Our own attachment to the Lord needs constant renewal and it is the same for those who catch his voice and tone in what we try to explain about him.  Jesus’ authority is not diminished by our very mixed success in transmitting it. The wolf continues to circle round the flock.   We are humbled by our sins and failures and we are alive to our need of the Lord’s protection.  The other sheep are being rescued from ravening jaws not only invited to contemplate the truth and to choose it serenely.  Jesus has acted decisively to save us and he sometimes requires decisiveness of us.  He who is the stone that the builders rejected which has become the cornerstone [14] does not lightly reject anyone else.  We are unpromising material, which he is moulding for his good purposes.  Not for too long, however, should we resist the Lord’s shaping.   His mission is to bring us into the presence of the Father, there to be happy forever.  He summons us. His call cannot be ignored forever.  His persuasiveness invests our own talk to others about him.  He is compassionate towards our ineffectiveness but is not halted in his mission.

Having heard, and, as grace permits, echoed the authoritative voice of the One who is risen, we make our way towards God. In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell forever and ever [15]. The other sheep come to know the good shepherd also and join us in his flock.  He permits us to share in his mission, allotting to us the task of sharing our faith in him.  Jesus encourages us to be his hands and voice.   God has made us for this work.  Conscious of how we have sometimes misused our freedom, we quail before the challenge.  Yet we are also delighted that this is how we are meant to be.  Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us [16].  Our main focus is on divine goodness.  Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end [17].  Repentant and ever-dependent on his mercy, we rely on his good shepherding for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters.  Our echoing his words to them is no fraud.  Our imitating him is not adopting a disguise.  Our integrity remains a work-in-progress.  Our faults are not invisible.  The faith we share is tarnished. However, the authority of the good shepherd, the risen Christ, shows itself in his followers above all because of our hope of heaven.  There, we really will be like him.  In God’s presence forever there is no pretending.   What lies ahead of us more immediately is not clear.  There may be many more attacks by the wolf to fend off.   We are still only slowly accepting the salvation that Jesus has so painfully won for us.  Our obedience is as yet not even an imitation.  However our goal is clear.  That clarity makes quite a difference.  In our voice, sharing our faith, there are traces, thanks to the good shepherd, of faith, hope and love.  The distracting hubbub that surrounds our present existence does not entirely drown out the wonderful notes struck by these virtues.  The other sheep hear their sweetness sometimes and wander towards the source.  The whole flock, well guided, is returning to that source. We are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed: all we know is, that when it is revealed, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is [18].

Homily by Father Peter Gallagher SJ


[1]              John 10.16

[2]              John 10.14

[3]              John 10.12

[4]              John 10.16

[5]              Matthew 7.29

[6]              Psalm (23) 22.2

[7]              John 10.16

[8]              John 10.17-18

[9]              John 10.18

[10]            Acts 4.10

[11]            Acts 4.8

[12]            Acts 4.12

[13]            Acts 4.10

[14]            Psalm (118) 117.22

[15]            Psalm (23) 22.6

[16]            1 John 3.1

[17]            Psalm (118) 117.1

[18]            1 John 3.2