– GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY
Readings:Acts 4:8-12Psalms 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 291 John 3:1-2John 10:11-18
This Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday, for the obvious reasons. The liturgy’s gospel gives us a chance, in the beautiful words of Jesus given to us by St. John, to focus on some of the qualities that should characterize all those who call themselves shepherds. As an expert in what shepherds are not supposed to be (arrogant, vindictive, malicious, untruthful, unmerciful, uncaring, selfish, lacking in decency, impatient, and full of pride), we will make every effort to focus here on the positive qualities of genuine shepherds, especially the model Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
It is clear from our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles and our Responsorial Psalm, that the Good Shepherd is the “cornerstone,” an essential cornerstone at first rejected by the builders (AKA Jewish people). Though Jesus was rejected, Acts goes on to say, that “there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” For centuries this phrase from Acts was used to defend the belief that “outside of the Church there is no salvation,” and today some strict evangelical sects still believe that heaven is made up of only Christian souls. Vatican II made it clear that any interpretation of this statement must be broad enough to accept that salvation is possible and open to “all peoples,” not just Christians, not just Catholics. Too narrow an interpretation of such a statement can lead to a distortion of God’s Word, and a deleterious, if not disastrous, effect on society, as was clearly seen in the actions of Nazi Germany. While anti-semitism still exists among far right Neo-Nazi organizations, many are more inclined in our era to see many moslem people as standing outside of the possibility of God’s salvation, especially with the negative examples of Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. In any case, the God, the Shepherd, we worship, is a God who desires the salvation of all peoples.
The gospel acclamation for the day says, “I am the Good Shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep, and mine know me.” Jesus is recognized not just as a “shepherd,” but He is the “good shepherd.” The sheep have no fear of Him, because He cares for them, gently leading and guiding them. Elsewhere we learn as shepherd He goes out of His way to find and return the sheep who has gone astray. In this Easter season we know how deep His goodness is, because “He lays down His life for His sheep.” He is not like some hireling, working only for money, “who sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away.” For Jesus, the flock He tends are “His own;” He knows them, and they know Him. Jesus’ relationship with His sheep is symbiotic, they are interdependent on one another – Jesus sharing His goodness with the sheep, and the sheep drawing on their strength to be good because of their knowing just how far His love for them will take Him.
Take note in the first reading what happens to that love that is shared with the sheep, in this case Peter and the disciples. It is a love that reaches out to touch others in the world in which they live; it is a source for good. Peter doesn’t take the credit for healing the cripple! The cripple was healed “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean,” who the authorities crucified. It is Jesus, our Shepherd, who has taught us to love others in the way that He has loved us. Because we know how far His love has been spent on us, unworthy as we are, we have the courage to love others, all others, in the way they were meant to be loved. It is only in that way that those who were once sheep become shepherds to others, and love spreads its cloak over a world so desperately in need of love. When our turn comes to take on the role of ‘shepherd for others,’ we draw our strength from the Good Shepherd who taught us what love is all about by laying down His life for His sheep. With the psalmist, “may we give thanks” to Jesus, our Good Shepherd, and our “savior.” Let us “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His kindness endures forever.”