The Good Sheep
I spent several years of my growing up in sheep country in northern Nevada. There was a very large flock of sheep that would spend the summers grazing in the mountain meadows and the winters in the valleys below. This flock seemed to me to number in the thousands. Oddly enough the sheep were lead by a mule with a bell around its neck. After years working with the shepherds the mule learned the routine of guiding the sheep back and forth to pasture. The sheep followed the sound of the bell. The mule was essentially the shepherd, and it seemed to be a good enough shepherd.
One fall day as the mule was bringing the sheep down from the mountains it led them onto a railroad track and a speeding freight train mowed down hundreds. I guess the mule knew when it was safely across the tracks but it lacked the ability to understand that the sheep would need a lot more time to cross and reach safety. And the blindly trusting sheep did not know when to stop following the mulish shepherd.
Today’s gospel was about the Good Shepherd. It also mentioned the Bad Shepherd, the hired hand who runs at the first sign of trouble. What is not mentioned is the Incompetent Shepherd, like the mule, who may think that he has the best interests of the sheep in mind but whose actions cause the sheep to suffer greatly; often the result is no better than being lead by the Bad Shepherd.
Significantly, today’s gospel also talks about the Good Sheep. Jesus says, “My sheep know me in the same way that my Father knows me and I know the Father.” Therefore, the key to being Good Sheep is good knowledge. Good Sheep know enough to follow Good Shepherds and to not follow bad and incompetent shepherds. They know because they read the Bible, honestly pray, and study their faith. They actively take part in their spiritual growth. They know that simply because someone is given a position of authority does not necessarily make that person a good shepherd.
What makes a shepherd good, are his fruits. Jesus was near to finishing a long and inspiring sermon, one that left the crowds “astonished", the one that encapsulates his teaching and what he expects of his followers when he said, “By their fruits you will know them.” It was toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Read the 3 chapters in Matthew that the sermon spans (5-7), and see if you can recognize the fruits of Good, Bad, and Incompetent Shepherds. You know the Beatitudes, all fruits of Good Shepherds. But the Good Shepherd also reconciles before going to the altar (5:24), is honest (5:37), is not vindictive (5:38-42), loves his enemies (5:44), gives in secret (6:4), prays in secret (6:6), fasts in secret (6:17), is not concerned about clothes and appearances (6:28), does not judge (7:1), follows the “Golden Rule” (7:12), and recognizes true prophets and Good Shepherds by their fruits (7:16).
Look around you; who do you follow, and what are their fruits?
Guy Hallman, parishioner
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