In this morning’s Gospel, we hear about the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd “lays down his life for the sheep.” The sheep know his voice and follow him.
In our first reading, Peter tries to act as a gatekeeper, letting nothing profane enter his mouth, but the Lord criticizes him for it in a dream. He learns that what God has made clean we must not call profane. This led him to welcome the uncircumcised – the gentiles. Peter’s ministry leads those “other sheep” into the fold. In this case, the Gentile Cornelius and his household. When he returned to Jerusalem, he was criticized for including them. Even in Peter’s time, the boundaries of the sheepfold, the Church, were being redefined. Not at Peter’s initiative, but because, as he explains to the Christian Jews in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us, presses irresistibly toward that day when there will be one flock and one shepherd. God is more inclusive than we often allow.
These readings show us that Good Shepherds will not only have sheep that know the Shepherd’s voice, but the Shepherds must also know their sheep. This knowledge is mutual – that is to say, there is learning involved. For every good teacher must also be a good learner. Pope Francis has memorably remarked that the Good Shepherd must have the smell of the sheep. This is a wonderful metaphor to explain how the true leader or pastor must spend time with the sheep, not just guiding them at a distance, but – as in the Jewish tradition – laying down to sleep with them and to guard the entrance to the sheepfold with their lives.
Do we dare to allow ourselves to be known?