I have a clear memory of a baptism that I celebrated here at St Mary’s a little time back. When the mother came up to the font with her baby, he was asleep in her arms. She held him over the font and I poured the water over his head. Of course that woke him and the first thing the little fellow saw was me leaning over him for a second go with the water – I could see the look of confusion and disorientation in his eyes no doubt he would have been frightened by the experience but then he turned his head and saw his mother and felt her touch and just relaxed – she was there it’s all ok- I’ll be safe there’s no need to worry.
In the Gospel today we are presented with an image of Jesus as a shepherd. While that would have been a powerful image in the time of Jesus, it is a bit lost on us in 2020 Melbourne. We don’t see shepherds here and the closest we get to a sheep is probably a warm woollen jumper or a plate of lamb chops.
What we do see a lot of though, in our parish and particularly in those Covid-19 gatherings of families that I witness every day in Alma Park which is next door to our house and on the basketball courts just out the back, is mothers and fathers with their young children. It is fascinating to see these people escaping the cabin fever that starts to emerge with too many mandated hours indoors, escaping too that enforced screen time for some bracing fresh air and an encounter with nature in the great outdoors.
I see families at play together and it is lovely. Little ones learning to ride a bike, others throwing balls and running about, they are happy scenes, though of course there are always a few tears when someone comes off a bike or gets hit by a stray basketball, but that’s nothing that a hug or a kiss from mum or dad can’t fix. So again while few of us will not have much idea about a shepherd, we have mostly all had some experience of a mother.
Let us look at the characteristics of the shepherd and his relationship with his sheep that come out of our Gospel today- his sheep know his voice and follow him; he keeps them safe; he offers them life to the full. Then in the psalm we hear that the lord is our shepherd there is nothing we shall want – we hear that our shepherd leads us through darkness to safety; that he nourishes us with good pastures; quenches our anxieties with restful waters and prepares a banquet for us.
For us, who do not know shepherds, what Jesus holds out to us looks like what a mother does with her children. Protecting, nurturing and caring. For us, who don’t really have much idea of shepherds, the Good Shepherd could be seen like the good mother and Jesus invites us into just such a relationship so that we may follow him; that we may know his voice and feel his touch. And in these times of isolation many of us will be longing for just that touch.
And so when, like the little baby that was baptised, we take fright or become confused, not by a drop of water on our head, but by life’s disappointments, setbacks and tragedies or by the strange and particular anxieties of these current days then, like the baby looking to its mother, we can look to Jesus – and see his face and know that he is there with us; and hear his voice and feel his touch and know it’s all going to be ok- despite the pain, despite the uncertainty we need not lose hope- we will be safe it is all going to be ok.
Joe Caddy, 3 May 2020