Good Shepherd Sunday promises sentimental lovliness and nostalgia but instead delivers overwhelming challenges. I think it’s nearly impossible to meditate on Jesus’ discourse on the Good Shepherd without hearing Ezekiel 34:1-31 in the background: waking up to the corruption of the bad shepherds, accountability in the causes of justice, and knowing the Holy One as Shepherd. Nevertheless the choice of quotes for meditation this week reflect the process of getting there more than the timeless call to radical activism. “Getting there” requires observation and depth (meditation one) embracing and cultivating within ourselves the subtleties of beauty and attraction (meditation two) as we grow ino the integrated mystical life which sends us out in apostolic union as shepherds ourselves (meditation three).
Enjoy your meditation - Suzanne
stranger and pilgrim soul
The symbolism of the shepherd also contains the sense of a wisdom which is both intuitive and the fruit of experience.The shepherd symbolizes watchfulness.His duties entail the constant exercise of vigilance.He is awake and watching.Hence he is compared with the Sun, which sees all things, and with the king.Furthermore, since, as we have stated, the shepherd symbolizes the nomad, he is rootless and stands for the soul which is not a native of this Earth but always a stranger and pilgrim.In so far as his flock is concerned, the shepherd acts as a guardian and to this is linked knowledge, since he knows what pasture suits the animals in his charge.He observes the Heavens, the Sun, the Moon and the stars and can predict the weather.He distinguishes sounds and hears the noise of approaching wolves, as well as the bleating of lost sheep.
Through the different duties which he performs, he is regarded as a wise man whose activities are the result of contemplation and inner vision.
-Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols
The Sheep, Bassano, ca1560
Behold then the sheep with the immaculate lamb, behold the faithful soul with Christ, who is glad of that love, who desires it so much that he is always famished and can never be sated by it, for too little does he find of that milk of love. -Umilta of Faenza, thirteenth century, Medieval Women’s Visionary Liturature, ed. Petroff, quoted in Easter, Liturgy Training Publications
I will feed them with good pasture, and upon the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.
Because of sin
You would not enter into your glory
In the way your truth had intended.
Your garden was locked up,
And so we could not receive your fruits.
This is why you made the Word,
Your only-begotten Son,
O gentle gatekeeper!
O humble lamb!
You are the gardener,
And once you have opened the gate of the heavenly
You offer us the flowers
And the fruits
Of the eternal Godhead.
- Prayers of Catherine of Siena
The Trials and Calling of Moses, Botticelli, 1481, detail
Meditation Two the beautiful one
The Good Shepherd: The shepherd, the beautiful one.Of course this translation exaggerates.But it is important that the word for “good” here is one that represents, not the moral rectitude of goodness, nor its austerity, but it's attractiveness.We must not forget that our vocation is so to practise virtue that men are won to it; it is possible to be morally upright repulsively!In the Lord Jesus we see “the beauty of holiness” (Psalm xcvi,9). He was “good” in such manner as to draw all men to Himself (xii,32). And this beauty of goodness is supremely seen in the act by which He would so draw them, wherein He lays down his life for the sheep.
–William Temple, Readings in John’s Gospel
called by our true names
Jesus, the new Adam, is at once shepherd and Word, “Name” of God, who is sent to men and women, to call them by name – by their true names in the creative Word, which are godly names, generative of divine being.Those who hear the Word of God are gathered into it and become “gods.” Those who receive the Son of God are gathered in to him and become children of God ().The violent compulsion which leads Jesus’ hearers to take up stones to kill him (10:31) comes from beyond themselves, from one who would only kill and destroy (see 8:40,44); what they rush forward to destroy is the divine-human life which is their own destiny.
“I have other sheep…there will be one flock, one shepherd” () “The Father and I are one” (). The sheepfold into which Jesus leads those who hear his voice, who hear him speak their new names – whether they have been Jews of Gentiles – is ultimately this One, this I Am, which is his own being.
-Bruno Barnhart, The Good Wine, Reading John from the Center
The Last Word
Tell me, you whom my heart loves, where you pasture your flock?
- Song of Songs 1:7
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Easter The Book of Common Prayer (American)
King David at Prayer, 15th century illumination, Unknown Master of the Breviary of Martin d'Aragon, Spain