by Catherine Maresca
Over the last forty years I have read these words to children, moved the model sheep from the sheepfold, and a few lines later, returned them to the fold and secured the gate. But this year, I suddenly realized that the text says nothing about returning the sheep to the sheepfold. Of course, this was the common practice, as we are told by historians and shepherds, and our movements reflect this. But Jesus does not actually say it! With this realization a new dimension of the parable opened up to me.
Most of us are blessed with a home to return to each evening. And we have other places well known and comfortable to us: a family, a community of faith, an atrium, a stage of life, a ministry or career or job, even the country or land to which we belong. But there are times we are called out of these places – leaving a childhood home and childhood itself, leaving the land of our birth, leaving secrecy to claim one’s identity, leaving a marriage, leaving one career for another or retirement, leaving good health, leaving a circle of friends, or a church, or a mindset, or our own life. There is no return.
Do we not need Jesus even more when we are called and led out in this way? If we’re not sure we should leave, we can’t find our way back, or we don’t know where we’re going – this is when the voice of the Good Shepherd and his walking ahead of us is so needed and so comforting. Like the sheep who know their shepherd’s voice, we are offered security, comfort, and “life to the full” in, and with, Jesus.
Being led out is ultimately a movement into a deeper reality. Jesus says “there will be one flock, one shepherd.” What home, or community, or ministry, or life, or faith tradition, embraces the fullness of the Kindom of God? All lack full communion. Step by step, Jesus leads us out of the limits of our lives, and into the unity of parousia, with all people, all creation, and the love of God. And I imagine those who have inspired other faith traditions are also leading their followers into this cosmic communion of love.
Let us pray for those making the difficult journey out of the comfortable or familiar into a new reality of any kind. May they know the comfort of the Shepherd’s voice and presence. May we be among those who ease their way and offer welcome. May we find together the unity to which we are called.