I laughed out loud the first time I heard this line. I quickly sobered up when I realized how much truth it holds.
The gospels present Jesus as the Good Shepherd, one who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. This pastoral image has been used to describe the role of bishops in the Catholic Church. The symbolism is reflected in the crozier or ceremonial staff carried by bishops. Its shape resembles a shepherd’s crook.
The image of sheep is used to describe us as we follow Jesus. He leads us with compassion and love. He seeks us out when we are lost, and gently brings us back. We trust his voice, knowing that he is leading us on the right path.
Using these images to describe the relationship between the ordained hierarchy and the laity is problematic for me. We are no longer dumb sheep who will blindly and obediently follow the voice of any and all shepherds. Our following depends on the shepherd. Jesus, yes! Each and every bishop just because he is a bishop, no!
Sheep will follow the voice of the shepherd only if they trust that voice. Thankfully, there are good and trustworthy voices that genuinely follow in the steps of the Good Shepherd. But, sadly, there are also scoundrels. Only the truly dumb will follow someone just because he carries a shepherd’s crook or wears a clerical collar.