The Shepherd and the Sheep

by Donald MacMillan, SJ


Donald MacMillan, SJ received a bachelor’s degree from Boston College in 1966 and a master of divinity from Boston College in 1972.  After being ordained in 1972, Fr. MacMillian held both teaching and administrative roles at Jesuit high schools. He has been a campus minister at Boston College since 1995 and coordinates the Urban Immersion Program.   


Several years ago I had the good fortune to spend a few days at the home and retreat house of the family of St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus, in Loyola, Spain. I was looking out the window at the hillsides and imagining Ignatius and friends romping through the fields when they were children. That day the hills were covered with sheep. At one point, they all stopped grazing and looked up. I followed their gaze to an elderly gentleman sitting under a tree. Every time he moved, the sheep watched him. At the end of the day he got up, sent his sheep dog up into the hills to gather the sheep; there were a few who wandered off on their own, and they all got in line behind the shepherd. When he got to the sheepfold, he opened the gate and said something to each one as they entered.

When the fourth Sunday of Easter came around, the gospel was the story of the Good Shepherd. My mind went immediately to that pastoral scene I had witnessed in Loyola.  The gospel words “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” took on a whole new meaning. To believe and understand that Jesus knows me, is humbling and requires me to know Jesus in order to have a good relationship with Jesus as the shepherd has with his sheep. This faith is a gift. This gift separates us from the metaphor by highlighting the fact that there is intimate knowledge here that can’t happen between sheep and shepherds. Jesus knows us and we know Jesus. We are not sheep who react to the shepherd’s voice and gestures, as cute as that was when I witnessed it in Loyola. We were created with intelligence, heart and will. We do not mindlessly follow after Jesus, and John is careful to point that out in this verse which comes in the middle of the story…a place usually reserved for the point of a story in the bible.  John says that the relationship Jesus has with his own is the same as the relationship he has with his Father.  And Jesus says they will hear my voice: God’s voice.


Do you know that you have been hearing God’s voice in what you do and how you live? Or do you know by your actions that you haven’t been listening to God’s voice? We all spend time discerning vocations. All of the vocations require sacrifice (laying down one’s life) but each of us needs to find our own way to follow Jesus. I highly recommend that you find a tree or a quiet place, maybe to watch some sheep, but certainly to listen to God’s voice. And I’ll tell you from experience that you will do this more than once as you proceed on your journey. But knowing that Jesus is your mentor makes it possible to do, not easy to do but possible. We are all God’s children. We have access to His voice always. Listen as he says “I am the Good Shepherd and I know mine and mine know me.”


Pope Francis wears a cross around his neck. The image on it is a shepherd carrying a little lamb on his shoulders surrounded by the rest of the flock. Not only is this an image for the Pope to resemble in his daily life, but it is for all of us to care for the poor, the weak and the marginalized. The image is on a cross reminding us of the need to lay down one’s life for the flock. Prayer can sustain us. Psalm 23 starts with “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” In Isaiah we read “like a shepherd he feeds his flock and gathers the lambs in his arms…” God loves us; let us love God in return by regular prayer, worship and caring for one another as shepherds, true shepherds care for their sheep; as God cares for us. Jesus may have to send his sheep dog out to round up the strays but that’s what the gospel tells us he did when he went looking for the one stray. Let us be willing to live the gospel in solidarity with God.

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