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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: March 27, 2015
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at St. Peter Church in Wynne on Friday, March 27, 2015. It is based on the following readings: Jeremiah 1:4-9; Psalm 23; Acts 6:1-7b; and John 10:11-16.
One of our most cherished images from the Bible is that of the shepherd and his sheep. So I am pleased that among the readings that Stephen chose for his ordination to the diaconate is the 23rd Psalm and a portion of the Good Shepherd discourse in the Gospel of John.
Throughout the Bible we find that God is the true shepherd of Israel. He leads, accompanies and protects the flock. In time he chooses others to help with his shepherding. David was a shepherd of sheep before he became, as king, a shepherd of men ... and through David the image of shepherd became a prominent messianic motif culminating in Jesus himself, the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep in today's Gospel.
And of course Jesus now chooses others to help with the shepherding of his flock today, some of whom even now lay down their lives for the sheep literally — like Father Rother who insisted that the shepherd cannot run when the wolves threaten his flock. And Stephen, I need to warn you that there are wolves in Arkansas, including the two-legged kind.
If we trust in Jesus, he who is our Good Shepherd will lead us to the green pastures we long for and to the table the he has prepared for us in the land of the living.
But there's something else about sheep that we don't hear very much, namely the reason for having a flock in the first place ... which, by the way, Pope Francis says you're supposed to smell like. (sniff) — I think you do!
So why do shepherds have flocks? The sheep aren't pets. He's not herding puppies! The destiny of every one of those sheep is to get sheared and part of the role of a shepherd is to accompany the sheep in their time of shearing — which human sheep find very disconcerting, especially when it involves loss. Yet because this shearing serves the true shepherd's purposes — God's purposes — he shears us clergy too, for we shepherds with a small "s" are the Lord's sheep as much as anyone else.
And of course, some of the sheep are chosen from the flock to give their lives so that others may be fed. On the farm, very few sheep die of natural causes. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but as we will see tomorrow evening and Sunday, he's also the Paschal Lamb. And on Good Friday we will read from Isaiah that "like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth."
How do we reconcile this with the comforting words of the 23rd Psalm? It's quite simple: If we trust in Jesus, he who is our Good Shepherd will lead us to the green pastures we long for and to the table the he has prepared for us in the land of the living. He will accompany us through the valley of the shadow of death — all the ups and downs of life, and he will protect us with his rod and staff that give us comfort. Jesus is able to do this not only because he is our Messiah and Savior, but also because he's already been everywhere that we'll ever have to go. Including everywhere you'll ever go in ordained ministry.
Stephen, as a transitional deacon you have responded to God's call to prepare yourself to share as a priest in Jesus' ongoing work of shepherding his flock today. Leading others while being led by the Lord yourself. Accompanying others in their times of shearing and loss, even as the Lord accompanies you through your own times of shearing and loss. And protecting others even to the extent of laying down your life for the flock, just as Jesus has laid down his life for you.