This Sunday of the Easter Season is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel is one in which Jesus teaches us about the Good Shepherd. This Sermon of Jesus took place while Jesus was in the area of Jerusalem teaching and performing great deeds. He was preparing to celebrate the Jewish Feast of the Dedication of the Temple. This teaching seems to be his response to the leaders who gave such a difficult time to the man born blind who Jesus healed. His teaching contrasts the approach of these leaders to that of who a true leader should be like. He uses the image of the Good Shepherd to bring home that their leadership was less concerned about the welfare of the people (sheep) and more concerned with maintaining their places of honor and control over the people.
When Jesus speaks of the Good Shepherd he describes the qualities that make a shepherd worthy of the title Good. The two basic qualities are that of humility and service, and his motive is care for the sheep. The Good Shepherd personally knows each of his sheep and calls them by name. This is such a normal part of the shepherds relationship to them that his sheep recognize his voice. The Good Shepherd is first and foremost concerned with the welfare of his sheep, even more than his own welfare.
The image that Jesus paints of the Good Shepherd is one that perfectly describes himself. Since the earliest days of Christianity Jesus has been portrayed in numerous works of art as holding a sheep. It is consoling to know the depth of love Christ has for each one of us. He ultimately showed us how deep it is when he put our redemption ahead of his life as he died upon the cross for us. It is in the name of Jesus that we address our prayers to the Father, in that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.
In addition to looking at Jesus as the Good Shepherd, one can also look at him as one of the sheep. For when the Good Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep he himself became a sheep. At Mass we pray the Lamb of God as part of the Communion rite. The Jewish Passover practice was to sacrifice the Passover lambs on the altar in the temple. These lambs would serve as the main dish of the Passover Dinner. This was an annual sacrifice to recall God delivering the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. On the Cross Jesus is the Passover Lamb. The Lamb of God is slain once and for all for our redemption. Through Jesus death on the cross we are set free from sin and given the opportunity to enter in the glory of his kingdom.
Throughout the Easter Season we celebrate not only the death of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, but also his victory over sin and death. It is this victory we are called to savor during the Easter Season. Christ’s victory is our redemption. The Gospel of the Good Shepherd teaches us how to embrace the gift of redemption by hearing and recognizing the voice of the Good Shepherd. We need to tune our ears and hearts into recognizing the voice of truth that comes from Jesus, the Good Shepherd. May we be men and women who are able to recognize the voice of the Lord and to faithfully follow him.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Artwork: The Good Shepherd, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) showing Jesus as a child.