4th Sunday in Easter
Jesus said: I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep. The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong to him, abandons the sheep and runs away as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; this is because he is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for this fold, and these I have to lead as well. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock and one shepherd. The Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own free will, and as it is in my power to lay it down, so it is in my power to take it up again; and this is the command I have been given by my Father.
Introductory Prayer: Lord Jesus, I believe and therefore I know that you are my Shepherd. You proved it by giving your life for me, to save me. And now, risen from the dead you continue to give yourself to me in your sacraments and in your Church, and you continue to guide me through those you have made my shepherds. I thank you and I place all my trust in you. I love you and accept your invitation to do as you did, and give myself for others.
Petition: Lord, grant me to imitate your love and give me the strength to think not of myself first, but of others and to give my life in serving them.
1. The Good Shepherd is One Who Lays Down His Life for His Sheep, while the hired man and runs away when danger approaches. Jesus says emphatically that he is the good shepherd. The implications are striking.
In the first place Jesus says he is our shepherd, in other words we don’t make him our shepherd, all we can do is accept or reject what he is. Paul puts it this way, even while we were still his enemies he gave his life for us. So he is and acts as our Shepherd no matter what our attitude or response is. This means his mercy is always there for us, and we can never say it is beyond our reach, or that he has stopped loving us.
In contrasting his attitude toward us with that of a hireling, he tells us there is no length to which he will not go in order to save us, even if it costs his life. And he does this because he loves us, we are his, he knows each one, we have been entrusted to his hands. When we approach Jesus we are not strangers to him, we are the sheep he loves, the ones he thought worthwhile dying for. Jesus thought it was worthwhile dying for me!
And Jesus tells us that we have enemies that only he can defend us against. Before the enemy of Christ and our soul, we are as vulnerable and exposed as sheep to a wolf. A sheep that wanders from his shepherd is in danger but as long as we seek to stay close to him and follow his ways we are safe. St Paul said he “gloried in his weakness”, it is only when we realize our weakness and for that reason allow Christ to shepherd us that we are safe and sure.
2. "I have other sheep as well" Great as it is to reflect upon Jesus’ love for each one of us and his closeness to us in the Church, the sacraments and his representatives, we must take care to look on all of this through his eyes and his heart. He does not want our heart or our life to be a dead-end, a cul-de-sac as regards his love. His follower cannot allow himself to revel in a sense of superiority on considering God’s goodness and gifts. Jesus wants each of us to be the bridge through which he can reach others. Each of his followers individually or in group has to be a channel for his message. The way we live his path has to become an irresistible invitation to others to seek it too, until all enjoy the fullness of his message and grace.
3. "The Father loves me because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” Jesus gives us an inside look on his relationship with his Father. We tend to define personality, independence and freedom in contrast to obedience, as if they were threatened by it. Between the Father and the Son, however, the relationship is entirely different; Jesus knows the Father’s will and he obeys freely, not forced by circumstances. Truly it takes the knowledge and truth of the Son to grasp the extremes of the Father’s love for men, to identify with it and freely give himself to make it a reality for us. By Baptism, with the supernatural faith, hope and love that it infuses in our soul, we also become capable of walking the path of increasing knowledge of God’s will, trust in it, and love enough to fulfill it.
Jesus emphasizes that he lays down his life in order to take it up again. Resurrection is as clearly on his horizon as the death that will be the gateway to it. When it seems God is asking us for everything, we need to raise up our eyes to be able to see the resurrection that he is offering us through that death to ourselves. The Father does not destroy the gifs he gives us, but he sometimes removes them to make way for even greater ones. Particularly, he weans us from the goods of this passing life in order to give us those of eternal life, which begins here on earth when we accept his terms.
Conversation: Lord, I accept and trust you as my Shepherd. I realize that you speak to me and guide me through those you have chosen to shepherd us on your behalf, granting them the graces that they need to do so faithfully. I realize that you too have placed some of your sheep in my hands, teach me to lead them and be faithful to you, teach me to love them to the point of giving my life for them.
1. What strikes me as regards what Jesus says about the good and the false shepherd?
2. Do I pray for the unity of Christians and the conversion of sinners?
3. Have I overcome the fear of what Jesus may seem to take away by trusting in his love?