[4th Sunday of Easter, Year B, April 26, 2015 / Acts 4:8-12 / Ps 118:1+8-9, 21-23, 26+21+291 / John 3:1-2 / John 10:11-18]
TODAY the Church celebrates Good Shepherd Sunday. The gospel is taken from John 10:10-18 where Jesus announces “I am the Good Shepherd.”
This image was very dear to the first Christians. In early Christian art Jesus was frequently depicted as the caring shepherd carrying the lamb in his arms in frescoes in the catacombs. Many sarcophagi had the Good Shepherd carved on them.
The shepherd was an image very familiar to the people of Israel. In the well-known Psalm 23 we hear: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me; you restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name. Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.” For the Israelites, the King was a figure appointed by God to shepherd the people and take care of them.
Jesus as the Good Shepherd has a great love for each and every sheep. He is willing to lay down his life for each one of us. Even when we go astray, he comes to find us. On the holy door of St Peter’s basilica there is a panel showing the good shepherd hanging from a cliff edge reaching out to rescue a fallen lamb. Sometimes we too go astray. We fall or become rebellious sheep! We do not want to listen. The Good Shepherd comes to find us. He approaches with gentleness and firmness, through the voice of our conscience, through his Word, through those around us, to guide us along the right path. He opens a way in front of a difficult situation. He leads us to the green pastures.
As St Gregory the Great noted “Anyone who follows him with an undivided heart is nourished in a pasture which is forever green.” How green and abundant are the pastures of his Word where we can find rest and nourish ourselves. This Good Shepherd loves his sheep so much that he even becomes food for them. We see this clearly in John’s gospel where the discourse of the Good Shepherd is linked to Jesus announcing that he is the bread of life. Jesus himself is the green pasture for the sheep. He leads his sheep to quiet pools as he himself is the living water.
In his book on Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI stated “Jesus is not only the Shepherd but also the nourishment, the true pasture who gives his life for us.”
The Good Shepherd guides his sheep. Each one of us is so loved by God that he guides our path of life, trying to help each one of us find the way. “God writes straight but with crooked handwriting” notes the old Portuguese saying. God asks us to trust him. He knows us and knows what is best for us. “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me” (Jn 10:14). It is comforting when someone knows you, knows what you like, what you need. Once I was sick with an infection. I lost my appetite and felt a bit weak. One of the priests went to buy me antibiotics. He came back and said “I know you have lost your appetite but I have brought you something I know you will like and I know you will be able to eat it.” Imagine my surprise when handing me the antibiotics he also gave me a bar of Toblerone! I was able to eat it and regain some strength! How much more God knows us, our likes, our longings. He knows what is best for us. He also knows our limitations and weaknesses but is not afraid to carry them on his own shoulders with so much joy. Jesus said “My own know me.”
How great to know Jesus, to know his love. Pope Gregory the Great said that when Jesus said “I know my sheep” he is actually saying “I love them.” How great to know this love. To know Jesus and to know ourselves. As Gaudium et Spes announced “The mystery of man is solved in the mystery of Christ” (GS no. 22). The more we listen to Jesus in prayer the more we will really know his love for us. If we do not encounter this love we remain lost sheep.
And each one of us is called to be a Good Shepherd to others.
Are we Good Shepherds? The Greek word for “good” is kalos and could also be translated as “beautiful” or “noble.” Thus we have a beautiful shepherd in Christ, a noble Good Shepherd who never uses the sheep for his own advantage. The rod and staff of the shepherd are a sign of dedication not oppression – the rod to fend off attacking wolves and the staff to assist the rugged climb. How about us? In the sheep entrusted to each one, the younger brother and sister in the family, the children for those teaching in schools, and all of us who in some way have people under our authority, are we Good Shepherds? Noble shepherds?
Let us imitate Jesus the Good Shepherd. For him there are no black sheep. He loves the stray ones more. The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 righteous ones, and goes in search of the lost one. Let us ask the Good Shepherd to help us to be more like him, to be able to reach out to the lost and abandoned sheep.