Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday) John 10: 1-10 (11-18)
In Sarah Perry’s novel ‘The Essex Serpent’
a young Victorian widow stumbles across a scene of horror during a woodland walk.
At first she hears it: a whining sound, like that of a child crying, followed by a voice, patient, crooning, wordless but strong.
Then she sees it: a large, rough looking man standing over a sheep, waist-deep in a muddy lake. The animal is clearly distressed and struggling to get free. The man has his arms around it, holding it.
The lady thinks he’s trying to kill the poor animal.
“Stop that!’ she shouts.
The man takes little notice and continues to struggle with the sheep, but as the lady looks at this filthy, mud-splattered man, she realises that he’s not trying to drown the sheep, but save it.
Forgetting all propriety, she joins in, and together they heave and pull. The sheep’s hoof smashes into the man’s face, marking it with a deep welt, but still he lifts and pulls, lifts and pulls, until the sheep is free.
Turns out he’s not a tramp,
but a priest, rescuing one of his flock.
Reading this the other week, I got to thinking about that poor sheep. Instead of just crying out, imagine it being able to speak. It would probably be shouting ‘let me go! Why are trying to kill me?’
Jesus uses many images to describe our relationship to God, but the one He uses today is that of a Shepherd. He is the Shepherd, and we are the sheep.
I wonder if Sarah Perry’s image of a sheep struggling with a shepherd gives us a faint, imaginative clue: this is how it might sometimes be, how it must sometimes be, between us humanoids and God.
Most of the time, a sheep cannot understand what the shepherd is doing. The sheep runs off and gets caught in a bush or stuck in sinking mud. If thought or speech were possible, the Sheep would be screaming at the Shepherd, ‘Why are you doing this?’ In terror it could only struggle, get even more stuck, and kick the face of the one setting it free.
If only it could just be still! If only it could just listen to the voice of the Shepherd, speaking -singing in wordless sounds.
If only the Shepherd could speak Sheep. What if the Shepherd could become a Sheep, and then she might be able say something that even a Sheep could understand.
Agnus Dei – The Shepherd who became a Lamb
the Shepherd becomes a Sheep.
God becomes human.
God is always speaking to us – if only we could be still and listen to what God is really saying to us, and not what our fears make up about Him.
In Jesus, the Word of God Himself becomes becomes flesh and blood human, and He speaks in a way that we can all understand.
Jesus uses words,
but the most important things He says to us are not with words
but with signs and actions.
He touches (untouchables)
He picks up children.
He shares meals with outcasts,
He drives away money changers.
He stretches out His arms on a cross.
He rises again
and He makes breakfast
(early morning grilled fish).
You see God is a sheep-whisperer, a human-whisperer.
Listen to His wordless voice
speaking to you, calling to you:
Be still. Be Loved. Be held.
-Sshh, everybody! My fears are speaking! Everyone else needs to shut up. – Hang on, my resentments are saying something, and I don’t want to miss a word….
Yeah, some inner voices get our undivided attention.
Listen to the voice of Christ!
With practice you can do it, find ways,
especially in the storm,
of being still, of tuning into His voice
speaking-singing to you the ever-same polyphony: ‘you are created, held, loved’.
Listen to the ever-present Christ within you,
to His wordless voice, telling you
what it means to be you,
to be saved,
to be truly alive
with Life in all its fullness.