Self-Guided Retreat Good Shepherd Sunday promises sentimental loveliness and nostalgia but instead delivers overwhelming challenges. I think it's nearly impossible to meditate on Jesus' discourse on the Good Shepherd without hearing Ezekiel 34:1-31 in the background: waking up to the corruption of the bad shepherds, accountability in the causes of justice, and knowing the Holy One as Shepherd. Nevertheless the choice of quotes for meditation this week reflect the process of getting there more than the timeless call to radical activism. Getting there requires observation and depth (meditation one) embracing and cultivating within ourselves the subtleties of beauty and attraction (meditation two) as we grow into the integrated mystical life which sends us out in apostolic union as shepherds ourselves (meditation three). The sign of spiritual maturity, says Jean Vanier, is “to grow in responsibility to care for others and to become good shepherds: servant leaders.”
Have a baaautiful meditation, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit)
stranger and pilgrim soul
The symbolism of the shepherd also contains the sense of a wisdom which is both intuitive and the fruit of experience.The shepherd symbolizes watchfulness.His duties entail the constant exercise of vigilance.He is awake and watching.Hence he is compared with the Sun, which sees all things, and with the king.Furthermore, since, as we have stated, the shepherd symbolizes the nomad, he is rootless and stands for the soul which is not a native of this Earth but always a stranger and pilgrim.In so far as his flock is concerned, the shepherd acts as a guardian and to this is linked knowledge, since he knows what pasture suits the animals in his charge.He observes the Heavens, the Sun, the Moon and the stars and can predict the weather.He distinguishes sounds and hears the noise of approaching wolves, as well as the bleating of lost sheep.
Through the different duties which he performs, he is regarded as a wise man whose activities are the result of contemplation and inner vision.
-Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols
Meditation Two (insight) the beautiful one
The Good Shepherd: The shepherd, the beautiful one.Of course this translation exaggerates.But it is important that the word for “good” here is one that represents, not the moral rectitude of goodness, nor its austerity, but it's attractiveness.We must not forget that our vocation is so to practise virtue that men are won to it; it is possible to be morally upright repulsively!In the Lord Jesus we see “the beauty of holiness” (Psalm xcvi,9). He was “good” in such manner as to draw all men to Himself (xii,32). And this beauty of goodness is supremely seen in the act by which He would so draw them, wherein He lays down his life for the sheep.
-William Temple 1881-1944 Readings in John’s Gospel
The Sheep, Bassano, ca1560
Behold then the sheep with the immaculate lamb, behold the faithful soul with Christ, who is glad of that love, who desires it so much that he is always famished and can never be sated by it, for too little does he find of that milk of love. -Umilta of Faenza, thirteenth century, Medieval Women’s Visionary Liturature, ed. Petroff, quoted in Easter, Liturgy Training Publications
I will feed them with good pasture, and upon the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on fat pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice.
So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. - John 10:7-9
Because of sin you would not enter into your glory in the way your truth had intended. Your garden was locked up, and so we could not receive your fruits. This is why you made the Word, your only-begotten Son, a gatekeeper.
O gentle gatekeeper! O humble Lamb! You are the gardener, And once you have opened the gate of the heavenly garden, paradise, you offer us the flowers and the fruits of the eternal Godhead. -Catherine of Siena 1347-1380 The Prayers of Catherine of Siena Suzanne Noffke, OP translator and editor
Good Shepherd, Catacomb of San Callisto, Rome, mid-third century
The Trials and Calling of Moses, Botticelli, 1481, detail
Meditation Three (integration) called by our true names Jesus, the new Adam, is at once shepherd and Word, “Name” of God, who is sent to men and women, to call them by name – by their true names in the creative Word, which are godly names, generative of divine being.Those who hear the Word of God are gathered into it and become “gods.” Those who receive the Son of God are gathered in to him and become children of God (1:12).The violent compulsion which leads Jesus’ hearers to take up stones to kill him (10:31) comes from beyond themselves, from one who would only kill and destroy (see 8:40,44); what they rush forward to destroy is the divine-human life which is their own destiny. “I have other sheep…there will be one flock, one shepherd” (10:16) “The Father and I are one” (10:30). The sheepfold into which Jesus leads those who hear his voice, who hear him speak their new names – whether they have been Jews or Gentiles – is ultimately this One, this I Am, which is his own being. -Bruno Barnhart The Good Wine, Reading John from the Center
To become a good shepherd is to come out of the shell of selfishness in order to be attentive to those for whom we are responsible so as to reveal to them their fundamental beauty and value and help them to grow and become fully alive.
-Jean Vanier Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John
The Last Word
Tell me, you whom my heart loves, where you pasture your flock?
- Song of Songs 1:7
If you were given the task of telling only one Christian story, what would it be?
As a Christian Educator I found myself in this position from time to time; plopped into a parish for a single Sunday guest appearance in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants church school program. (Actually, some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants programs can be better than slick, expensive, fancy, well-organized ones… but I’m getting off topic.)
My “one story” is the parable of the lost sheep.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them. ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”- Luke 15:1-7
Everyone will be lost at one time or another. Or many times. Some of us chronically wander into narrow canyons where paths stop so abruptly you can’t even turn around and go back out. Only a shepherd’s crook from an overhanging ledge in the hands of a strong shepherd can haul you up to safety.
The story of the Lost Sheep can also help cut through some of the density of the Johannine material for Good Shepherd Sunday. This Lukan story needs no explanation – the story works on levels simple and complex, personal and corporate, literal and allegorical, metaphorical and anagogical.
Anagogically and simply yours, Suzanne
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Easter The Book of Common Prayer (American)
King David at Prayer, 15th century illumination, Unknown Master of the Breviary of Martin d'Aragon, Spain