For the 9:30 am crowd at St. Paul’s in Cambridge on Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations:
All of Jesus’ words reveal him to be a keen observer of the natural world: we hear much in the Gospels about the growth of plants, the relative dimensions of camels and needles, the location of schools of fish, and—in today’s case—the behavior patterns of sheep. Jesus draws our attention to one behavior in particular: after the “[shepherd of the sheep] has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.”
“They recognize his voice.” Jesus seems to have noticed, two thousand years ago, what animal behaviorists would nowadays call “imprinting.” Perhaps the most familiar case of imprinting involves ducks rather than sheep. As soon as a duckling hatches, it looks for its mother, whom it identifies instinctively and follows unswervingly. For the sake of survival, a duckling must be able to pick its mother out of a line-up of other ducks. Hence, it is essential that ducklings spend the first hours of life in the company of their mother. Otherwise, they attach themselves to pretty much anything that moves—a dog, a rubber ball or, in the worst case, a predator. The ducklings follow whatever figure is first “imprinted” on their brains.
Returning to the example of the Gospel, we might say that Jesus’ identification of Himself as Good Shepherd suggests that becoming a sheep of his flock, becoming his disciple, is something like becoming “imprinted” with his person. Read the rest of this entry »