|Good Shepherd in the catacombs of Saint Priscilla, Rome
This Sunday, the Fourth Sunday after Easter, is a celebration of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. The Gospel of John dedicates the entire chapter ten to this theme emphasizing the different roles of the Shepherd. Today, we look more at the relationship of the shepherd to the sheep and the sheep to the shepherd. We need to lay aside our
contemporary images and reluctances about this image given to us by the Fourth Gospel’s inspired author. Seeing it in the context of the entire chapter as well as surrounded by the Psalm Response and the First and Second Reading we can come to appreciate the image as having a very deep message for us.
The Psalm speaks of the “keystone” rejected by the builders becomes the chief living stone for the believers. A keystone is the one that holds the other stones together whether it be the foundational stone at right angles to a corner of a building or the top central stone within an arch. The image comes from a psalm that is a national
celebration psalm. This was taken up by the early Christians as one of the most cited of psalms in the New Testament as well as one that is frequently recalled during this Easter Season. We see Jesus as the keystone and the exemplary pastor in the readings from John and from this excellent psalm 118. It is especially the final ten verses of it that are heard often during this time of joy, peace, and exultation at the event of Jesus’ rising from the dead.
Our Evangelist does not give us a parable in relating this story and image of who Christ is for the community of John, the Beloved Disciple. Rather than the translation of Good alone with Shepherd, we
must see it as an example story thus Jesus is the exemplary model for being a pastor, a shepherd, for those who follow him. We transfer the image from the world of sentient animals to that of rational
beings—humans like we are. We are called to be shepherds ,that is, leaders who help those who are in need of being led and educated to listen carefully to the one who brings them to a resting place of
peace and nourishment.
We learn that like Jesus we are to be in control of our lives so as to lay them down for the good of others. As Shepherd he did this for the universal mission he had—he has other sheep that are not of the one fold that he is now watching. These too must be led to join the flock through his care, concern, and love for all of us. His heart is always ready to protect those who are being educated to hear the voice of
Jesus—especially children and orphans and the poor. These are often fragile and weak. They need excellent leaders and teachers and that is our mission to be pastors in this world. The word is universal not only for “pastoral ministers” of a structural church. We are to be exemplary models of who Jesus is as shepherd. He speaks of his being this while sharing his relationship with the Father. This relationship
is then extended to others seen in the image of the sheep. All are called to be other Christs, other exemplary shepherds. We grow into this call from being sheep to becoming shepherds. It is a maturing
process in the life of a Christian dedicated to bringing about the kingdom of God.
The second part of the chapter is dedicated to this more personal relationship dimension in the life of the exemplary shepherd to his sheep. Listening, recognizing the living voice of Jesus is brought about by our following him wherever he goes and leads us. Verdant pastures lie ahead for us as we are not only following this exemplary shepherd but actually participating in his very life through the sacraments of Easter—Baptsim and the Eucharist. We follow, we listen, we are attentive, we feel his concern and care for us. We come to realize he is the exemplary model for leadership and mission.
Peace, joy, and exultation are ours when we become like him. Amen.