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The kenner

Posted April 24, 2021

4th Sunday of Easter, Yr B

Vocations Sunday

‘I am the good shepherd: I know my own and my own know me.’  Moments earlier Jesus has said:  The sheep hear the voice of the good shepherd: ‘he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.’  (John 10: 11-18)

Jesus is the ‘good’ shepherd.  What does ‘good’ mean here?  Probably we instinctively interpret it in the light of Chapter 15 of St Luke’s Gospel, where we have the unforgettable picture of the shepherd finding the lost sheep at last and ‘laying it on his shoulders, rejoicing’.  St Luke, in that chapter, doesn’t actually call the shepherd ‘good’, but we can tell he is ‘good’ because he performs such a tender gesture.  And this understanding of the ‘goodness’ of the shepherd has been celebrated in Christian art down the centuries.  Therefore, when we come to today’s Gospel Reading, from Chapter 10 of  St John’s Gospel, we almost inevitably bring to it an understanding of the ‘good’ shepherd in the sense of a shepherd who is loving and tender.  

But this is not what St John means when he has Jesus say: ‘I am the good shepherd’.  The Greek word here translated ‘good’ is kalos.  Kalos does not mean ‘loving and tender’ but ‘of high quality’; ‘superb’.  St John uses the same word when describing the wine that was kept until last at Cana.  It was ‘high quality’, ‘superb’ wine.  High-quality wine is the wine that does its job excellently.   Similarly, a superb, ‘high-quality’ shepherd is a shepherd who does his job excellently ‒ with outstanding efficacy.  He gets it right.  He knows his job.  Above all, he knows his sheep.  In the farming communities of the Scottish borderlands one of the chief characteristics of a good shepherd is said to be his ability to ‘ken the sheep’, to be a good ‘kenner’ – which means: knowing the sheep, having the ability to recognize each of them by their attributes (physical, emotional and, no doubt, intellectual), as well as to remember the background and habits of each individual. 

Jesus is an excellent ‘kenner’.  He calls each of us by name.  He knows the terrain of our life, the nooks and crannies, the surrounding hills and ravines, the obstacles and the pitfalls, the open pastures, the still waters, the secure places: the past, the present, the future.  He knows our weaknesses and our potential.  He knows our aspirations and desires, our fears and our dreads.  Above all, he knows where he wants us to be, and when ‒ for our own good and for the increase of his grace in the world.

We have only one life.  The choices we make about it will determine our destiny.  It makes sense, doesn’t it, to follow Jesus the ‘kenner’?

Many of us have already made our life choices.  If that is the case with you, then the message that Vocations Sunday has for you is that you must actually see your life choice as a vocation.  Sounds rather threadbare as a recommendation, but it’s not.  A vocation is the manifestation in your life of a choice that God has made for you in eternity.  So, for those of you who are married, do you see your marriage as your vocation?  You have heard it said many times before, but it’s good to let the truth hit you again and again.  The implications are enormous.  On the positive side, it means that every good act of yours as husband or wife or parent is a religious act.  On the negative side, it means that infidelity in marriage is not just committing a sin in the sense of having to include it in your shopping list of sins; it’s not even just being disloyal to a human person: infidelity to your spouse is a straying from the path that God knows will lead you to himself. 

Obviously, it’s not just married people who have a vocation.  Any state of life can be a vocation, a path to God.  You may be young or old, fighting fit or afflicted with illness, successful in your own estimation or carrying heavy burdens from the past.  Responding to a vocation simply means seeing the eternal dimensions of your situation in life.  ‘God has created me to do him some definite service’, Cardinal Newman wrote.  ‘He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another.’  You must look out for the signs of God’s providence in your life, to the events and circumstances that God will most certainly place before you. 

Traditionally ‘Vocations Sunday’ has had to do with vocations to the priesthood.  While this should not lead us to detract from the seriousness and splendour of other kinds of vocation, it is especially appropriate today to recall the uniqueness of a vocation to the priesthood.  A vocation to the priesthood is a vocation to bring Christ to the altar and to the world.  It is a vocation to be a means by which Christ, the lover of souls, reaches out to individual souls with a word of comfort, reconciliation, challenge and liberation; to bring people the assurance that forgiveness is possible and a broken life repairable; to give a pledge of God’s forgiveness.  Maybe God is calling you there.  Be alert to the voice of the kenner.  He knows where you are and where he wants you to be.

Fr Tom Deidun

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