Friday, September 28, 2007

All good shepherds are in the one Shepherd


~by St. Augustine

We have seen that Christ feeds you with judgement, and he distinguishes the sheep that are his from those that are not. The sheep that are mine, he says, hear my voice and follow me.

Here I see all good shepherds wrapped up in the one shepherd. It is not that there are no good shepherds but that they are all part of the one. To be many means to be divided, and so here the Lord speaks of one shepherd because it is unity that he is commending. The Lord does not avoid talking about “shepherds” in the plural because he cannot find anyone to take care of his sheep.

He did find shepherds, since he found Peter – and by the very choice of Peter he commended unity. The Apostles were many and to only one of them did he say Feed my sheep. May it never happen that we truly lack good shepherds! May it never happen to us! May God’s loving kindness never fail to provide them!

Now if there are good sheep then it follows that there are good shepherds, since a good sheep will naturally make a good shepherd. But all good shepherds are in the one Shepherd, and in that sense they are not many but one. When they feed the sheep it is Christ who is doing the feeding.

In the same way the bridegroom’s friends do not speak with their own voices, but when they hear the bridegroom’s voice they are filled with joy. Thus it is that Christ is feeding the sheep when the shepherds are feeding them. He says “I feed” because it is with his voice that they are speaking and with his love that they are loving. For even as he gave his sheep into Peter’s charge, like one man passing responsibility to another, he was really seeking to make Peter one with him. He handed over his sheep so that he himself might be the head and Peter, as it were, the body – that is, the Church – so that like a bridegroom and bride they might be two in one flesh.

Before he handed his sheep over to Peter he made sure that he would not be entrusting them to someone quite separate: Peter, do you love me? And he responded, I love you. Again: do you love me? And he responded, I love you. And a third time: do you love me? And he responded, I love you. He makes certain of love and gives a firm foundation to unity. He, the one shepherd, feeds the sheep in these many shepherds, and they, the many, feed them in him, the one.

Scripture is silent about shepherds and yet not silent. The shepherds boast, but whoever boasts, let him boast in the Lord. This is what it means for Christ to feed the sheep; this is what it means to feed the sheep for Christ, to feed them in Christ and not to feed oneself apart from Christ. When he said I will feed my sheep Christ did not mean “I have no-one else to give them to”, as if the Prophet had foretold a bad time when there would be too few shepherds. Even when Peter and the Apostles were still walking this earth, Christ, in whom alone all are one, said I have other sheep that are not of this flock, and these I have to lead as well so that there will be only one flock, and one shepherd.

So let them all be in the one shepherd and speak with the one shepherd’s voice, for the sheep to hear and follow their shepherd – not just any shepherd, but the one. Let all shepherds speak with one voice in him and not with separate voices: I beseech you, my brethren: say the same thing, all of you, and let there be no divisions among you. May that voice, cleansed of all division and purged of all error, be the voice that the sheep hear as they follow the shepherd who says The sheep that are mine hear my voice and follow me.

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