I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD
(A biblical refection on THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER [Year B] – April 26, 2015)
Gospel Reading: John 10:11-18
First Reading: Acts 4:8-12; Psalms: Psalm 118:1,8-9,21-23,26,28-29; Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-2
The Scripture Text
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know My own and My own know Me, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed My voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from My Father. (John 10:11-18 RSV)
The image of the shepherd is one of our most popular concepts of God. And the psalm of the shepherd (Psalm 23) is one of the most popular prayers of all time. But an overly sentimental picture of the shepherd might well obscure the strength of this divine title. Our sentimental concept comes from the countless pictures we have seen of misty-eyed shepherd, handsomely bearded and immaculately groomed. And the pastures in our mind are a combination of Alpine postcards and lush grasslands, with pretty lambs gambolling about.
The reality was that sheep territory was anything but lush grassland. The good land was reserved for other agricultural purposes and the sheep were out on the rocky outbacks where they had to scavenge for survival. And as for the shepherds in our Lord’s time, they were regarded as robbers dressed in smelly sheepskins, too dirty to be admitted to the local synagogue. Two features of the shepherd which Jesus took up were the dedication of the shepherd’s life to the flock, and his one-to-one relationship with the sheep.
Sheep are particularly timid and stupid animals, always needing a leader to show the way, a searcher when they stray and a healer when they are cut and bruised. The oriental shepherd gives his whole time , “lays down his life”, for the flock, for he had to leave home for very long periods to lead the flock to far of pastures. The sheep become his family and he gets to know each of them as an individual. This expresses the desire of Jesus that each individual person would grow in intimate relationship with Him.
Jesus called Himself the good shepherd to contrast to the hired man. The hired man was concerned only about his own job or what he was getting out of it: the genuine shepherd had the concern of the sheep at heart. Originally the statement about the false shepherds was a criticism of the Jewish leaders who were failing to give proper leadership. But the criticism is valid for all time as there will always be false shepherds trying to beguile people away from following the voice of Jesus Christ.
The situation is particularly true today when traditional Christian culture is – directly or indirectly – under attack from the media advocates of secularistic humanism. There are also self-appointed shepherds who lead people away from the voice of Christ to a different understanding of life, to different values and standards of behavior. Whose voice do you follow? Whose values do you respect and aspire to? Does your “shepherd” offer a comprehensive meaning to life …… a meaning which will carry us through the dark valley of suffering and across the bridge of death?
Jesus said that there will be only one flock and one shepherd (John 10:16). This expresses His own unique position as the only true way to salvation, the only name in which we can be saved. A contemporary confused person regards all religions as more or less the same. But this is to underestimate the unique role of Jesus Christ, the one whom God raised from the dead, in which name alone is healing, and who is the keystone of all human history (see First Reading: Acts 4:8-12).
Jesus calls us to follow His way and this leads directly to the Father. His will was always perfectly united to the Father’s, as He demonstrated when He freely laid down His life in obedience to the Father’s will. In today’s second reading Saint John asks us to reflect of the love of God which raises us up to be children of God. To follow Jesus as our shepherd is the same as belonging to His family as a sister or a brother. Only heaven will reveal what all this means. For the moment we follow our risen Savior day by day on our journey of life. We are strengthened in prayer as our minds delight in the psalm’s description of what the shepherd does for us (See Psalm 23).
Prayer: God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, though Your people walk in the valley of darkness, no evil should they fear; for they follow in faith the call of the Shepherd whom You have sent for their hope and strength. Attune our minds to the sound of His voice, lead our steps in the path He has shown, that we may know the strength of His outstretched arm and enjoy the light of Your presence for ever. Amen.
Note: Please also read the biblical reflection entitled “TO FOLLOW IN FAITH THE CALL OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD” (reading for April 29, 2012) in the blog: A CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE.
Jakarta, 24 April 2015
A Christian Pilgrim