Today is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. But the readings call our attention to the flock rather than the shepherd. Still, the character of the flock does tell us something about the one who guides and cares for it. The fact, for example, that there are different kinds of sheep indicates that the shepherd values diversity. Still, it is but one flock, not two, so unity within this diversity is another value.
Jesus’ words indicate that the sheep are his. He calls out, and they hear and heed his voice. What’s more, under his protection they are secure; he maintains that “no one can take them out of my hand.” This is very reassuring, particularly in a world that cannot ensure security.
The diversity within the community of believers is also seen in the other two readings. Paul and Barnabas move the fledgling church into the realm of the Gentiles, which was not accomplished without opposition and struggle. But the reading from Revelation assures us that eventually it was accomplished. There we see this great and diverse multitude paying homage to the victorious lamb.
The notion of unity in diversity is quite popular today—at least as a slogan. In fact, it is a very difficult balance to achieve. We tend to associate with people with whom we share racial, cultural, economic and religious characteristics and values. At times we may even ridicule those who appear to be different. Not so Paul and Barnabas. They deliberately ventured out into the land of the Gentiles. We know that those Gentiles who embraced the faith were not required to accept all of the religious practices cherished by the Jewish Christians. We ourselves are evidence of that.
The Good Shepherd calls us all, “from every nation, race, people and tongue.” Unlike the societies in which we live, in the Good Shepherd’s flock these genuine differences remain as distinctions but not as separations. They add to the color and texture of the community of believers; they do not alienate or marginalize. There is no dominant or superior group in this flock. We are all God’s people, “the flock he tends.”
Today’s readings present the risen Lord as both the Good Shepherd and the lamb that was slain. Actually, he is the former in virtue of being the latter. He paid for the undisputed right to lead us by the shedding of his blood. If we hear his voice and follow him, he will lead us also to springs of living water and wipe away every tear from our eyes. This is reason enough to cry out: Alleluia!