4th Sunday of Easter, Year A | John 10:1-10
Unraveling the Sheep Stereotype
The BBC has this to say about sheep:
“Sheep are one of the most unfairly stereotyped animals on the planet…
Reputation: Sheep are stupid, defenceless, and harmless creatures…
Reality: Sheep are actually surprisingly intelligent, with impressive memory and recognition skills. They build friendships, stick up for one another in fights, and feel sad when their friends are sent to slaughter. They are also one of the most destructive creatures on the planet.” (http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20170418-sheep-are-not-stupid-and-they-are-not-helpless-either)
As I read that description, I replaced the word sheep with Christians (and maybe specifically Catholics?), and I felt the description was just as apt. Perhaps Jesus would have too.
Reputation: The world thinks we blindly follow and don’t think.
Reality: Jesus healed the blind, and His methods of teaching encouraged, if not required, an enormous amount of brain work.
When we use eyes of faith, ones touched by Jesus, we too are “surprisingly intelligent…build friendships, stick up for one another in fights, and feel sad when [our] friends are sent to slaughter.” Especially ones who are slaughtered on a cross. Unfortunately, though, when our eyes are not graced by true faith, we can also be “one of the most destructive creatures on the planet” and cause more damage to each other than ought to be humanly possible.
When we try to take shortcuts, use simplistic benchmarks to judge our faithfulness, that’s when we try to “climb over elsewhere” rather than taking the long way “through the gate” (v.1). Faith isn’t one-dimensional. It’s relational, multi-faceted. Thinking of it as the way to ease or to prosperity for ourselves or advertising it that way to others makes us “thieves and robbers” (v.1). We lose the possibility of true connection with our living God or, worse, steal it from someone else.
While not easy, building relationships is the only way “through the gate.” Sheep follow their masters, not out of stupidity, but because they know the master, because of mutual connection. Formulas, checklists, and behavior guarantees don’t produce good Christians, relationship does. A so-called Christian can check every box and still “steal, slaughter, and destroy” (v.10) another’s dignity. It’s relationship that allows for respect and understanding.
Once sheep know their master, they find their way back to their true north again and again. Sheep know if they quiet and listen, the person for whom they search will rise above the rest. They know that relationship, that personal connection, is the only way to “have life and have it more abundantly” (v. 10), and that life is exactly what the Good Shepherd has promised.