The English language uses the word “herd mentality” – it comes from the pastoral setting of tending the sheep. It means a mindless grouping/congregation of people very similar to our political phenomenon called HAKOT system, where people are grouped together in a place not knowing why they are there in the first place, except that everybody is there. The basic disability of the sheep is its lack of vision, hence it is almost half blind. Therefore their security is being together. Their sense of smell is their source of action. No other reason except vulnerability and survival instinct put them together.
Today the fourth Sunday of Easter, the image of the shepherd and the sheep dominate the readings from Psalm 100 to the second reading: Revelation 7 from the gospel acclamation as well as the very short gospel proclamation John 10:27-30. The early church has no symbol including the cross more prominent than the Good Shepherd. There is no better image to illustrate the intimate nature of our relationship with God than the image of shepherding.
When the image of the sheep is applied to us it signifies dependence, that we are weak and in need of help. Sheep are not endemic to us except those who get to eat roast lamb in fine dining places. It may not occur to us that the sheep are the dumbest of all animals. They go to the gullies, become entangled in brambles, fall into ditches and wander into predators’ territory. It is because they do not know any better, they could hardly see. No domesticated animal is as defenseless. A dog has enough intelligence to find his way home. (Remember Japan’s Hachiko.) It has some acute sense of smell and hearing to find food; it can defend itself against other animals or run away from one if need be. A cat is a loner with enough cunning to take care of the worst situations. It has been said that cats have nine lives (Harold Buetow).
It is neither of those ways with the sheep. It is so trusting that he mistakes anybody as his shepherd including the marauders. It can be beaten black and blue, bloodied without giving a fight or signs of pleas for help. Hence we hear the expression “like a lamb led to the slaughter.” No groan, no sigh, only tears in its eyes when it is being slaughtered. This is how vulnerable the sheep is with out a shepherd to guide him to the grazing lands and protect him from the predators.
For us to admit that we are sheep is to put our trust completely, unreservedly in Jesus, the Good Shepherd. The relationship between this kind of shepherd and his sheep is a power of connectedness, of empathy. The relationship between the Good Shepherd and his sheep is so intimate that it is an extension of the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Father’s omnipotence is the guarantee of Jesus’ promises; his promise of eternal life, that we shall not perish, that no one can take us out of his hands as promises to his flock that can be fulfilled by the Father. With him we shall not only “never perish,” not only protected from danger and harm, but will be led to eternal life where we would not want anything for God is the only necessity in our life.
1. Like sheep, we are almost half blind. We would not be able to see what lies beyond the horizon that awaits us. Neither can we see the dangers around us trying to exploit and mislead us. It is Jesus alone who can lead us to the eternal pasture. The grind of daily life can lull us to contentment and we lose sight of the beyond. We can get so engrossed with daily cares and concerns that we are not able to see the marvelous future ahead of us.
2. Jesus is not only content in giving us the vision. Aside from images of security of giving us the basic necessities, he leads us to the right paths, to mean all danger averted. At the moment of greatest danger, God still provides, thus the Psalmist can say “fear no evil.” God’s scepter/rod connotes royal authority hence his guidance and provision are reliable because God is sovereign. Jesus as Good Shepherd will put his life at risk in the face of danger.
3. The caring and tending of the sheep includes knowing the sheep personally, each by name. An intimate relationship between the Good Shepherd and the sheep binds them in an inexplicable way, The shepherd knows each one. Who is missing, who is sick, who has no appetite. There is no stranger in the flock. We are all known. None should feel she/he is unrecognized. But more than recognition, knowing means involvement in our lives.
In this age where many communities, neighbors are strangers to one another, whose neighbors scarcely know the name of those living next door and when many in fact seek anonymity, let us put away our isolation and alienation. Let us start hearing the voice and follow the Good Shepherd that we may become one flock where one knows and is known in the process.