‘In those countries of the East where our Lord appeared, the office of a shepherd is not only a lowly and simple office, and an office of trust, as it is with us, but, moreover, an office of great hardship and of peril. Our flocks are exposed to no enemies, such as our Lord describes. The Shepherd here has no need to prove his fidelity to the sheep by encounters with fierce beasts of prey. The hireling shepherd is not tried. But where our Lord dwelt in the days of His flesh it was otherwise. There it was true that the good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep — “but he that is an hireling, and whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth, and the wolf catcheth them and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep”.
Our Lord found the sheep scattered; or, as He had said shortly before, “All that ever came before Me are thieves and robbers”; and in consequence the sheep had no guide. Such were the priests and rulers of the Jews when Christ came; so that “when He saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd”. Such, in like manner, were the rulers and prophets of Israel in the days of Ahab, when Micaiah, the Lord’s Prophet, “saw all Israel scattered on the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd, and the Lord said, These have no Master, let them return every man to his house in peace”. Such, too, were the shepherds in the time of Ezekiel, of whom the Prophet says, “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherd feed the flocks?... They were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered”: and in the time of the Prophet Zechariah, who says, “Woe to the idle shepherd that leaveth the flock!”
So was it all over the world when Christ came in His infinite mercy “to gather in one the children of God that were scattered abroad”. And though for a moment, when in the conflict with the enemy the good Shepherd had to lay down His life for the sheep, they were left without a guide (according to the prophecy already quoted, “Smite the Shepherd and the sheep shall he scattered”), yet He soon rose from death to live for ever, according to that other prophecy which said, “He that scattered Israel will gather him, as a shepherd doth his flock”. And as He says Himself in the parable before us, “He calleth His own sheep by name and leadeth them out, and goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice”, so, on His resurrection, while Mary wept, He did call her by her name, and she turned herself and knew Him by the ear whom she had not known by the eye. So, too, He said, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?” And He added, “Follow Me”. And so again He and His Angel told the women, “Behold He goeth before you into Galilee... go tell My brethren, that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me”.
From that time the good Shepherd who took the place of the sheep, and died that they might live for ever, has gone before them: and “they follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth”.
…My brethren, we say daily, “We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture”. Again, we say, “We have erred and strayed from Thy ways, like lost sheep:” let us never forget these truths; let us never forget, on the one hand, that we are sinners; let us never forget, on the other hand, that Christ is our Guide and Guardian. He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”. He is a light unto our ways, and a lantern unto our paths. He is our Shepherd, and the sheep know His voice. If we are His sheep, we shall hear it, recognise it, and obey it’.
from Sermon 16 by St John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
Fr Lee Kenyon