I love the tenth chapter of John. It is Jesus' description of Himself as the Good Shepherd. When I was 13 years old, the Lord animated this passage for me in a way that I will never forget - a vision which shook me to the core. Even now, whenever I hear the words, "I am the Good Shepherd," my mind tends to gravitate back to that experience. That is what happened at mass early this summer when I recognized the opening words of the gospel reading. But as soon as I started to "check out" and get lost in my own thoughts, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, "Why don't you listen this time? You might learn something new." And so I did.
This is what I heard. "He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them." The wolf scatters the sheep. That was a new revelation to me. I knew that the wolf would devour sheep. But on this particular Sunday morning I realized that our enemy is after something more than filling his belly. He is out to scatter the flock because his real enemy is the Shepherd. The wolf hates the Good Shepherd more than he hates the sheep, and scattering the flock is a blow to the Shepherd.
Scattering is also a tragedy for the sheep, of course. The photo above is a vivid reminder that sheep don't fare well in a panic. Division is deadly.
Sitting in mass that Sunday morning, I felt God was giving me the message I would share in Rome -namely, that division is the enemy's strategy. It has ever been so. The serpent deceived Eve and Adam, and the immediate consequence was division. Man hid from God. Woman and man accused one another, losing the intimate partnership they were created for. In the very next generation, "sin crouched" at the door of Cain's heart, and brother murdered brother. The enemy found a crack, and the flock was scattered.
In John 10 Jesus tells us that hired hands flee from the wolf and allow it to scatter the flock. Much of the work we will do in Rome involves lamenting the hired hands who opened the door to the wolf - bad bishops and popes who cared more for status and security than for the Good Shepherd or the flock. These hired hands of Christian history are like the faithless kings and prophets of Israel. Of them Ezekiel writes, " Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, thus says the Lord God, Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? ...(The sheep) were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them."
Meditating on these verses I have begun to see the work of reconciliation in a different light. Reconciliation is a form of spiritual warfare - a counter-attack to the enemy's plan, a search for fellow sheep. I have begun to see that there is more at play in our divisions than simple doctrinal disagreement or personality conflict. There is a wolf crouching at the door, eager to scatter the flock. As a flock we are safer when we recognize the wolf. Safest when we keep our eyes on the Good Shepherd.