I love Good Shepherd Sunday (Second Sunday after Easter) because my father’s family were mostly Scottish Border farmers and shepherds. I was named William Gordon after a great-uncle who had a farm called Slaid Hills near Hawick where the hills were covered with grazing sheep. Scottish shepherds, unlike those in Palestine, had highly intelligent Border collies to help them round up the sheep. There were just too many sheep in a Scottish flock for the shepherd to say, like the good shepherd in the parable: “I know my sheep, and am known of mine”, though there were some lovely exceptions such as the inevitable orphaned lambs whose mothers had died giving birth. I remember such lambs lying wrapped in little blankets in a wide basket by the farmhouse fire, being fed through the teats of babies’ bottles of milk.
Jesus was no shepherd, but he used the example of shepherds in his teaching about his (and his Father’s) care for all mankind. In one way it was highly unflattering to compare his hearers to the witless and sometimes idiotic sheep and goats of the shepherd’s flock. But Jesus was a realist and in his presence there was no room for pretence. Humans were just as witless and silly and stubborn and feckless as any sheep. But of course the main message of the parable was that our only safety in this world of wolves and lions and precipices was to stay close to the “Shepherd and Bishop of our souls” as St Peter describes Our Lord.
“Bishop” is the Authorised Version of the Bible’s translation of the Greek “episkopos”. More modern versions have translated it as “Overseer” or “Guardian” or “Protector”. But I think Bishop is best, since it is the word used from the beginning of the Church to describe those who were ordained by the Apostles to continue the shepherding of the flock of Christ which he had committed to their care.
How I wish the Bishops of the modern Church would forget their fund-raising and managerial skills, their obsession with psychology and sociology and lots of other “ologies”, and return to mirroring their lives on Christ the Good Shepherd. They are the pastors of the pastors and should have no other interest but that of feeding, teaching and tending the Church committed to their charge.