Dear Friends in Christ,
Pope Francis caused quite a stir when, at the beginning of his Pontificate, with a memorable turn of phrase he encouraged the clergy to be ‘shepherds living with the smell of the sheep’. Later on in Evangelii Gaudium he said the same call extends to every believer because we are all called to be missionary disciples: ‘Evangelisers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice’. Now we all know that sheep don’t smell too good – come to think of it, neither does the shepherd. Herding, feeding and watering livestock of any mind is hard, manual, sweaty labour, out in all kinds of weather braving the elements. Shepherds have to be appropriately dressed and equipped – they are roughly dressed for rough work.
So who is the shepherd and who are the sheep? The Chief Shepherd is Jesus – he described himself as the ‘Good Shepherd’ – and we are the sheep. To be likened to sheep isn’t a very flattering comparison. In Animal Farm by George Orwell the sheep are easily led, in contrast to the pigs (very intelligent animals by all accounts) who are leaders. Sheep aren’t known for being especially intelligent – they wander, they stray, they graze all day, oh and they smell – but they are endearing, especially the baby lambs, and they provide us with wool and meat.
Nevertheless we are like sheep because we all go astray. We all wonder from the path of righteousness, we all follow the herd, and we all need the guidance of the Good Shepherd. We are all lost sheep and can only be found by the Shepherd. We have the smell of the sheep about us.painThe Good Shepherd leads us out of our cold indifference into the warmth of God’s merciful and compassionate love for everyone, but especially the little ones: the poor, the vulnerable, those who grieve and those facing difficult challenges. The Good Shepherd guides us to live not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit and to produce the good fruit of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law’.