This Sunday is known as Good Shepherd Sunday because the readings refer to God as our shepherd. Since we buy lamb from supermarkets and only see wool already made up into our clothes, it’s an image that has lost some of its power for us, but it would have spoken very powerfully to the people listening to Jesus. They would know all about the danger and the drudgery that shepherds face in looking after their sheep, the joy and wonder of seeing new lambs born, the anxious care of watching over them while they are still young and vulnerable, the constant struggle to ensure that the whole flock is kept safe and led to pastures where there is enough food and water.
This is the role that Jesus gave three times to Peter in last Sunday’s Gospel: feed my lambs, look after my sheep, feed my sheep. It is one of the ways of describing the ministry of leadership in the church, so we pray today for all those who serve as deacons, priests and bishops, and for all those who are discerning whether God might be calling them to a specific ministry in the service of his people.
Pope Francis, in his latest letter on the joy of love in family life, says ‘All family life is a “shepherding” in mercy. Each of us, by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others… each of us is a farmer who tills the fresh soil of those whom he or she loves, seeking to bring out the best in them.’ He speaks with great insight and realism about the joy and privilege of looking after each other in our families, of giving our full attention to those with whom we live and making sure they feel loved and respected. He also speaks of the care that, as a church community, we should give to those who have suffered through their experience of family life, whether through bereavement, the breakdown of relationships, physical and mental illness or the many external pressures that can affect families. He reminds us that no family falls perfectly formed from heaven. Every family and every individual needs to be cared for and nurtured through the ups and downs of life.
As we rejoice in the love and care of the Good Shepherd, let’s pray that we will get better at shepherding each other, and especially those closest to us.