Jesus calls us sheep in this Sunday’s gospel reading (Jn 10:11-18). From anybody else this would be an insult, but it actually says more about him and his role as our shepherd than about us being among the dumbest animals alive.
“A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus explains. “A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them.”
So, maybe we are stupid sheep. We’re skittish; we tend to follow the crowd and get into trouble; we’re easily outsmarted by predators. But at some point, our good shepherd needs us to stop being sheep, otherwise we’ll be useless to him. In fact, I think he wants us to be more like that wolf—in good ways. Wolves are smart, family oriented, courageous, loyal and strong. Christ required all of those qualities from his disciples, knowing they would need them if they were to spread his message around the world. Peter certainly shows those qualities in today’s first reading (Acts 4:8-12) Having just used the power of the Holy Spirit to cure someone, he follows that up by calling out the leaders of Jerusalem for the innocent blood on their hands.
“All of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed. He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.”
As this passage implies, we are called to get beyond being sheep and wolves and aspire to being like Christ. John does more than imply this in our second reading (1 Jn 3:1-2):
“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Yes, Jesus will always be known as the good shepherd, but we shouldn’t continue being sheep. That would be baaad.