Every 4th Sunday of Easter, we read from the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel when Jesus uses the image of the shepherd to describe his mission and ministry. Hence, it is called “Good Shepherd” Sunday.
Over the years I remember preaching about my experience in Tanzania where shepherding was an everyday and every family occurrence.
I remember preaching about how hearing the voice of the shepherd requires the need for daily prayer, reading and reflecting on sacred scripture.
I remember preaching about the Annual Catholic Appeal and how our participation helps ministries to shepherd those who are not of our parish flock.
I’ve preached on vocations and the need for young men and women to respond to the call of Jesus to follow him as priests, religious sisters and brothers. I am keenly aware of this need after being with the bishops at the Priest Placement Board meeting on Friday where we struggled with more parish and pastor needs than we had priests.
So, please if you recognize the qualities of a good shepherd, of holiness, of love of God and people in a young man, ask him if him has ever considered being a priest. Encourage him to pray about it and talk to Fr. Cody or myself. Priestly vocations are all our responsibility.
This year, what strikes me so deeply is one phrase from this Sunday’s gospel that is repeated five times.
In the ancient Greek, the term “good” also means “model” and “true.” So Jesus is the model, the absolute true shepherd who we can count on, no matter what.
Why? Because “I will lay down my life for my sheep.” Five times in just seven verses, Jesus tells us that he will lay down his life for us.
He won’t run out on us. He won’t give up on us. He won’t blame us, accuse us, beat up on us or bully us with tweets, Instagram or Facebook posts.
Jesus tells us that, “I won’t run away when dangers or problems arise. I am and will be there for you. I was crucified for you. It was not the nails that kept me on the cross for you. It was love. I laid down my life for you.”
Isn’t that something we all need to hear?
Relationships nowadays seem so fragile, so unstable, so lacking in commitment and endurance, so “snap-chat” like that they just disappear and are replaced by whatever and whoever is next, leaving us with so much relational collateral damage to deal with.
Jesus not only says he is committed to us, that he won’t walk out on us when things get difficult or tough but he shows us his absolute commitment to us by dying on the cross for us.
“I am the good shepherd and I know mine and mine know me.” This “knowing” is not just some intellectual knowing, not just being in the contact list on our phone.
No, the knowing is an intimate, heart to heart knowing rooted in the Father’s love for Jesus and Jesus’ love for us.
Jesus knows our relationship problems, the struggles in our marriages, our worries about our kids, our disappointments at work, our hurt feelings, our painful memories, our health problems and all our worries.
He not only knows them all but he also promises to guide us through them all. He won’t run away when the wolves of worry attack. He won’t let us down even when we may not feel his presence or when things do not go as we want them to. Jesus might have other plans for us than ours. (Repeat) My ALS was not in my plan. Yet it has proven to be a blessing even when it is a burden.
So let us trust his voice. Let us trust that he has, does and will lay down his life for us, that he will be there for us.
And not only that, Jesus empowers us to continue to do what he began in this world. Like Peter in our first reading, we too are commissioned to be Jesus’ disciples, to proclaim the good news of his name that Jesus is Savior of the world and not just another nice guy and awesome teacher, one among many.
Jesus is presenting to us a definition and model of who we should be as we fulfill our shepherding responsibilities as disciples, as parents, family, citizens, parishioners and pastor.
This is the challenge given to all of us. Will we trust? Will we accept his love, his laying down his life for us? Will we believe that he is our Good Shepherd, now and for eternity?