4th Sunday of Easter / Good Shepherd Sunday Year B

Acts 4: 8 -12 / PS 118: 1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29 / 1 Jn 3:1-2 / Jn 10: 11-18

     If I asked you to pause for a moment and think about who God is, what image would pop into your mind? Perhaps some of us would have an image of God as a judge wearing a long black robe, perhaps others of us would see God as the kind grandpa sitting in His rocker chair, others maybe would see God as a great kingly ruler. In fact, I bet if I went around the Church we could come up with hundreds of different images for God and some of them would be better than others. While interesting, that exercise is not necessary because in today’s Gospel Jesus gives us His own image of God when He says “I am the good Shepherd.”[1]

     The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the most ancient images for our Lord. In the Old Testament God calls Himself the Good Shepherd, promising “I will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest.”[2] Our Jewish ancestors prayed regularly in the psalms “the Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I will want.”[3] The early Christians dearly cherished the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd because they understood the rapport that existed between a shepherd and his sheep. Sadly for most of us living in our high tech computerized world the significance of the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep is lost. In biblical times the shepherd lived as a nomad, sleeping next to his sheep and frequently traveling with them from one region to another as the seasons changed. It was the role of the shepherd to care for his sheep, by leading them to fresh pastures and water, finding shelter for them in inclement weather and being willing to risk his life to save them from bandits and beasts seeking to cause them harm. While sheep are simple animals they have great confidence in their shepherd. They recognize his voice and obeying his commands because without Him the Sheep would not survive.

     This beautiful image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd gives us a glimpse into who Jesus truly is. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and they know Him. Our God is not some disconnected judge in the sky; no He knows our innermost selves and loves us with a personal love that treats us as though we are the only people who exist. The Good Shepherd loves His sheep so much that He freely gave His life for us.

     Sadly, living in the 21st century, we so often see ourselves as far advanced from the days of shepherds and sheep, but perhaps we are more like sheep than we care to admit. Whether we like it or not, the image of the Good Shepherd and His sheep is forever a part of our lives, after all Jesus Himself tells us He is the Good Shepherd and while we may not always appreciate the image, if we truly think about it, is it not really a truth that fits every generation? Does not every generation, no matter how independent they may think they are, need divine assistance to enter into our heavenly reward? Is it not true that “no one is strong enough to travel the entire path of salvation unaided? All have sinned, all need the Lord’s mercy, the love of the crucified one.”[4]

     God is not an evil judge sitting on a judgment bench, He is not a grandfather sitting in a rocking chair, He is who He says He is; He is the Good Shepherd. The Lord is clear, “my Sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.”[5] To hear the Shepherd we must take time daily to turn off our electronics and put everything else on the back burner so that we can learn to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd in the silence. If we want to be led towards the green pastures of eternal life we must spend some time every day sitting in prayerful silence, learning to recognize the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd and learning to follow Him with great joy and confidence wherever He may lead us.

[1] Jn 10:11

[2] Ez 34:15

[3] PS 23

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Part II. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006. pgs 151 – 152.

[5] Jn 10:27

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