For this homily I am greatly indebted to Pr. Weedon, whose homily, passed out at our Pericope Study, I have "creatively appropriated" and modestly adapted. Enjoy, give all glory to our Good Shepherd and all credit to Pr. Weedon for this wonderful "parable sermon."
The Wolf & the Sheep-Shepherd
Once upon a time – and it was a real time, not just an imagined one – there was a wolf. He was old and very fat. You see, he had it easy. Whenever he wanted to eat, he would simply walk out the door of his cave and look at the sheep that grazed just outside. He’d eye this sheep or that one. Then, with minimal effort, he’d go after the one that made his mouth water, bring it down, and eat away. And the more he ate, the bigger he got, and the bigger he grew, the hungrier he got.
Sometimes he delighted in just being mean and nasty. Sometimes he would merely poke his head out the door of his cave and howl. All the sheep would quake and shiver at the sound of him. He’d chuckle to himself. “Yes, you’d better be afraid, you stupid little sheep, because one of these days I’ll devour you, and it won’t be very pleasant…for you, that is. Ha, ha!”
You see, this big, bad wolf had a name—a name that struck fear at its very utterance. The sheep only had to think of this name, and they’d get wobbly in the knees. Some would even faint on the spot. The wolf’s name was Death. And Death was always hungry and never satisfied. He was always eating sheep and always wanting more. And he stank. Oh, the very smell of him was worse than his name or his howl. The wolf named Death was just plain dreadful. But he was in charge and all the sheep knew it.
Then came a day when wolf Death was feeling hungrier than usual. He poked his head out the cave door. He took a deep breath as he began to roar, but then something caught his eye. And he couldn’t believe his eyes. Right there, in front of him, on his very doorstep, sat the fattest, juiciest sheep he’d ever laid his eyes on. What brazen boldness and cocky confidence this fat sheep had! So, the wolf drew in the biggest breath of air that his huge lungs could hold, and he let out an earth-rumbling howl. All the other sheep in the area turned tail and ran. They were afraid—more afraid than ever before. But the fat, plump, juicy sheep stood still. That sheep paid no attention at all to the wolf—just kept grazing as if he hadn’t heard the roar. Now, wolf Death was getting mad. He charged out the door and right up to that impertinent animal. Again he sucked air into his huge lungs, then he blew right in the sheep’s face. The sheep looked up and merely blinked as the hideous odor of decay blasted against his face. The sheep just looked at the wolf, completely unconcerned.
Now the wolf worked himself into a tizzy. “Don’t you know who I am?” he snarled. The sheep looked at him and said, “Yes, I know.” Calm. Peaceful. The other sheep began to creep back, ever so cautiously, keeping their distance, to watch the confrontation. They couldn’t believe what they saw. “Well,” snarled the wolf, “aren’t you afraid?” The fat, plump sheep looked wolf Death right in the eyes and said, “Of you? You must be joking!” Now the wolf was livid. He growled in a low, menacing tone: “You’re in for it, lamb chops. And I’m going to make it slow and painful for you.” After a moment of silence, the sheep simply said, “I know.”
The other sheep watched with intense interest. They had never seen anything like this before. But when the wolf pounced, they jumped in fear. A great sadness filled them. They had had a fleeting hope, a daring thought, that just this once the wolf would not get his way. But their hopes were dashed. It was an awful and ugly sight. The wolf sank his teeth in to the plump sheep. He ripped his flesh. He chowed down. And, as promised, it was a slow and painful process. When the wolf finished, there was nothing left of the sheep. The wolf looked at the other sheep, his grimacing face smeared red with blood, and he belched with a cruel glee. They turned tail and ran, knowing that he’d come for one of them soon enough.
The wolf went back to his cave. He continued to lick his chops, savoring the flavor. He had never before tasted a sheep quite so good. The meat was not tough at all, but quite tender and rich, altogether satisfying. Then a thought hit him, a thought just a little disturbing. For once, his insatiable hunger had been satisfied. “Ah, no matter,” he thought, and went to sleep.
When morning came, the wolf did not feel quite right. His tummy was beginning to ache. It had never happened before. He would normally wake up ravenous and devour about a dozen sheep before the dew was off the grass. But not this morning. He tummy was grumbling. By noon the discomfort was too much. He felt positively ill. Normally, he would inflict fear and pain on the sheep, but this day he got a taste of real pain, and it frightened him. He kept thinking back to that brazen fat sheep he had eaten the day before, the one that tasted so strangely good. Could it have been poisoned, or diseased or something? Soon he stopped thinking altogether. The pain was too unbearable. He rolled around on the floor of his den. He howled and yammered.
Outside, the other sheep heard the strange noises and didn’t know at all what to make of them. They crept, oh, so cautiously, closer to the cave door. They turned their heads to listen. What could it mean?
Sometime later, in the dark of night, the wolf let out a shrill, convulsing howl. Something was alive and moving inside his gullet. That something pushed and poked and prodded. Then, suddenly, that something pierced a hole through the wolf’s gullet, ripped it open, and burst through it. And that something—or rather, Someone—stepped out of the hole of that massive, stinking stomach. The wolf felt like he was dying. And I suppose in a way he was.
The wolf did not recognize the figure that stepped out of its belly; it was completely unknown to him. That Someone looked like a shepherd. He’d heard of such a critter, but he’d never actually met one. With a staff in his hand, the Shepherd walked around and stood facing the wolf. And he began to laugh. He laughed, and his laughter burst open the door of the wolf’s den. He laughed, and the sheep were bewildered, wondering what was happening inside. He laughed and looked the wolf right in the eye.
“So, you don’t recognize me, old foe? I grazed just outside your door three days ago. You promised that I would die horribly, and you kept your promise. But what will you do with Me now?”
“You?” the wolf gasped. He recognized the voice. This Shepherd really was the sheep that he had devoured. “You! But how? Ooh! The pain!” The Shepherd smiled and said, “Well, I think you’re pretty harmless now, my friend. Just try to eat some of My sheep now. I promise you, that just as fast as you swallow them down, I will lead them right out through that hole I made in your stomach. And then you’ll never be able to touch them again! Ha, ha!”
The wolf howled in fear, in pain, and in rage. But there was nothing he could do. The Shepherd had fooled him good! Then the Shepherd stepped outside the door and called the sheep together. They also knew His voice. They’d heard it before. They stood before the Lamb who had become the Shepherd, and they listened as he told them what would happen to them. “You’ll die too. He’ll come out in a few days hungrier than ever. He’ll swallow you down, as if nothing has changed. But don’t worry. Everything has changed. I punched a hole right through his belly, and so when you go in, I promise you, I’ll bring you out again.”
Once upon a time, and that time was some 2000 years ago. And the promise still holds: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10:27-28). It’s the promise and the comfort of the Resurrection. It’s the promise and the comfort that comes to us yet again today in His Holy Supper. Here we taste the very Body and Blood that went into the wolf’s mouth, but which the wolf could not hold. Remember this promise as you eat and drink: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn. 6:54). Let that old wolf howl and snarl. We know there’s a huge gaping hole in his tummy. We know the Sheep who is the Shepherd. And our Good Shepherd knows us. Amen.