I have a friend who is a veterinarian. Her favourite animals are sheep, but she once told me that sheep are among some of the dumbest animals. She calls them mutton-brained. She claims that they might recognize the voice of the shepherd, but that they are not capable of much more than that. After that, every time I heard a scripture passage about Jesus as the shepherd and us the sheep I would get annoyed. Why would God liken us to dumb animals? Were we supposed to be dumb and follow blindly? When I finally managed not to get hung up on that point, I realized that the kind of animal—no matter how smart or dumb—wasn’t important. What was and is important is the fact that Jesus is there for us and that we can feel safe in his presence. Sheep apparently need a shepherd or an enclosure to survive just as we need the loving presence of Christ to live life to the fullest. So, when in today’s gospel, Jesus tells us he is the gate to the sheepfold, we know that he will not let anyone in who is dangerous or allow us out until it’s safe to do so.
Maybe sheep have trouble recognizing anyone but the shepherd, but Jesus, as the shepherd recognizes his sheep. He walks ahead of us to bring us to pasture or to those places that nourish us. To Jesus, everyone of us is precious. As the second reading from 1Peter 2:20b-25 says: “…but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” When we are among Christ’s flock or in his sheepfold, we will be safe—that’s worth being a sheep.