Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Easter - May 3, 2009, Year B
By Dennis Hankins
Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29
1 John 3:12
Theme: I Am the Good Shepherd
Jesus understood the crowds as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (see Matthew 9:36)
Sheep by their very nature require leadership. Without a shepherd, sheep wander, become disgruntled and disagreeable with each other. Under the care of a shepherd, sheep are content and docile. Such is the meaning of the Twenty-third Psalm: "Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."
What sheep need, and cannot survive without, is a shepherd. A good shepherd knows his sheep by name, and will lead them to good pasture and water. When he calls, the sheep recognize his voice, for in his voice is the assurance of the next meal and of safety in the time of trouble. Most importantly, a good shepherd will never forsake his sheep. If a wolf approaches, it is the shepherd who guides his flock to safety; guarding them with his own life. We have found that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and Guardian of our soul. (see 1 Peter 2:25) Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me.
No less than five times in today's Gospel Jesus speaks of laying down his life. "A good shepherd," Jesus said, "lays down his life for the sheep. The other four statements of Jesus are, "I will lay down my life for the sheep;" "I lay down my life in order to take it up again;" "No one takes it from me, I lay it down on my own;" and lastly, "I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again."
To say Jesus is my shepherd is to say, he is my salvation. There is no salvation through anyone else. No one else has pursued Adam's race with such affection and abandonment. Is there salvation in any other name? Has anyone else offered himself for the salvation of the world? Other than Jesus, do you recall anyone in world history, who spoke to the weariness of humanity, and said, " I am the good shepherd?"
It is for his sheep Jesus laid down his own life. As the good shepherd, it is Jesus who came seeking us, in loving kindness calling our name, because he cares, because he wants us in his fold.
I have seen the loving kindness of this Shepherd: In the face of the priest in the giving of absolution; in the March for Life; in the care of a Mother for her child; in the joyful voice of a child; in the hopeful face of a cancer patient; in the wrinkled faces of the elderly. All around us is the presence of the Good Shepherd; for he is never far away.
As I've experienced more of life, grown a little older, and maybe wiser, I notice more the richness of creation. Because of this, I hope I am more inspiring to those nearest me. The song of the Cardinal and his visits to my backyard bird feeder capture my imagination. Tears come freely while listening to my daughter Bethany caress the strings of her violin with her soul. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
In Christ's name and example, the Church, the sheepfold of the sheep, is a place of welcome and refreshment. Jesus has other sheep who do not yet belong to this fold. No matter the age, the color, or the accent, the Church is a place of safety, of welcome and love.
The work of the Good Shepherd is not finished. So to those who are harassed and helpless and sometimes without hope, we must become the face and voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. If somehow on my face and in my voice someone can recognize Jesus' love, perhaps that person, will find his way back home, to the fold, the Church, where we all belong. And we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, like a shepherd lead us. Lead us to be more kind, more tender hearted, more loving to those sheep who are scattered and gone astray. Amen.