Jesus, and the first audiences for the Gospels knew their animals. The Gospels are full of references to animals, and it seems that many times it is sheep.
I'm from the suburbs, the amount of things I know about animal husbandry can be counted on one hand. However, someone once told me that sheep from various folds would be pastured together. When it was time to move them, the shepherd would call his sheep and, knowing his voice, his sheep would follow him. This works because of the bond and trust that is built up between sheep and shepherd.
Now, I have no idea if that is true or not, but in the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter we hear Jesus saying that when he calls his sheep they hear him and follow him. The Prayer After Communion asks that we, the sheep, be lead to the best pasture: "Look upon your flock, kind Shepherd, and be pleased to settle in eternal pastures the sheep you have redeemed by the Precious Blood of your Son."
Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd and we are his sheep. We know his voice. However, just like the sheep in the field, it is not enough just hear the shepherd calling, we have to follow. We have to trust that we are being lead to safety.
We can trust in our Good Shepherd because he has shown us the way. The Collect for Sunday reminds us of that when it asks "Almighty and ever-living God, lead us to a share in the joys of heaven, so that the humble flock may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before." We know that there is no place where we could be lead that Christ has been to first. We know that even death has been conquered.
We hear, in the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Jesus saying that no one will be able to take his sheep from him. We can trust our Shepherd to take care of us and lead us to better pastures.
That is not to say it is always easy. The reading from the Acts of Apostles today ends with Paul and Barnabas being driven out of the community because they are proclaiming the Good News to the Gentiles. However, even then we hear that "the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit". Following the voice of God can sometimes take us to places where we never thought we would be and sometimes that can and does lead to ridicule and persecution. We need to only look back to Easter Sunday and see the horrible violence that was committed in Churches in Sri Lanka to know that sometimes the path to eternal pastures is painfully short.
However, we are called to be filled with joy and the Holy Spirit because we know that we are following the true Shepherd. We know that when we follow the voice of Jesus we can never be lead astray.
I am the Good Shepherd says the Lord; I know my sheep, and they know me.
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto.