(Readings of the Holy Mass – Fourth Sunday of Easter)
I found a somewhat funny but true story that took place about six years ago. In the British newspaper, The Telegraph, James Badcock reported an incident that happened in the Spanish city of Huesca. There was a flock of 1,300 sheep that had to be rounded up by the local police department. The reason was the shepherd had fallen asleep. The reporter recalled:
According to city authorities, the police were alerted to the presence of the extremely large flock attempting to negotiate the streets in the center of Huesca at around 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday when a local resident dialed Spain’s 112 emergency number.
The dozing shepherd was meant to be keeping the animals in check outside the environs of the city while he waited for the clock to strike 7:00 am, when he was due to guide the sheep northwards through Huesca towards Pyrenean uplands where his flock will graze during the hot summer months.
The police eventually found the herder, who was still peacefully slumbering. Together the embarrassed shepherd and police officers were eventually able to extract the sheep from the city and return them to their pastures
Fortunately for us we have a shepherd who never sleeps. Today is sometimes referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday based on the Gospel reading and the responsorial psalm.
Jesus uses the image of shepherd and flock as an analogy between Himself and the Church. All are welcome to be part of the flock.
During the public ministry, Jesus prepared his apostles and disciples for this mission. Following Pentecost, they go out, proclaim, invite and baptize.
We hear of one episode in the first reading in today’s liturgy. It is through baptism that people are incorporated into the Church — they become members of the “flock.” In accepting baptism, they are accepting Jesus as their “shepherd.” We know by experience — but the story above also reminds us — we need a shepherd; trying to live this life on our own can very easily lead to chaos and confusion.
Jesus will refer to Himself as the “Good Shepherd” in another passage in the Fourth Gospel. In this passage, He focuses on certain attributes of the shepherd. He actually uses two related images to describe himself: shepherd and sheep gate.
As a shepherd, Jesus is a sure guide. He is reliable. We, the “sheep,” can confidently place our trust in Him.
He will never lead us astray but will take us where we need to go, when we need to go and how we need to go.
He will protect us on the journey. Thieves and marauders may try to snatch us away but he will be there to save us.
He knows us “by name.” In other words, He does not just know us as part of a group, He knows as individuals. And He knows us well. He knows what we do, what we think, what we fear, what we hope for, what are desires are, and what we enjoy, He knows everything about us because He loves us.
Psalm 23, the responsorial, is one of the most beloved of the Psalms. For many people just hearing the opening words conjures comfort, confidence, strength, and peace: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” The images used, likewise speak of the loving care the shepherd has for the sheep; in this case God’s relationship with His People. He protects, provides, dispels fear, instills courage, bestows blessings, delivers from evil, and he leads us home to be with him.
This last image – “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come” – may remind us of Jesus’ words regarding the “sheepgate” image he uses for Himself, when He says: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
It is through Him that we have access to eternal, divine life. Our shepherd is the Risen Lord. He, and He alone, can leads us through death to life. He does so because He is the Good Shepherd; who, as he says in another passage, “will lay down His life for his sheep.” (John 10:11).
In our relationship with Jesus, the “good shepherd” reminds us that we need to allow Him to be the leader.
One author speaks of how this can be challenging at times because of our insecurities, need for control, desire for independence, or during periods of doubt or struggle.
He suggests, thinking for a moment, where we would be if we took the “shepherd” out of Psalm 23. Here’s what he found:
1 my … I shall be in want.
2 me … me
3 my soul … me
4 I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear … me … me.
5 me in the presence of my enemies … my head … my cup
6 me all the days of my life … I will dwell
He concluded that when the Lord is not our shepherd, “We are left obsessing over our wants in the valley of the shadow of death, paralyzed by fear in the presence of our enemies.”
He continues: “No wonder so many are so cynical … Both the child and the cynic walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The cynic focuses on the darkness; the child focuses on the Shepherd.”
Today we celebrate Jesus, our “Good Shepherd,” for “the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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