4th Sunday in Easter
Acts 4:8-12; 1Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd – featured in this week’s gospel – is one of the first images of Jesus to find its’ way into Christian art. It’s there in the paintings of the earliest Christian catacombs under the streets of ancient Rome. The image is a common one in the Old Testament as well; the only difference is that it is Yahweh who is celebrated as the Good Shepherd. Psalm 23 is a particularly beautiful example. Every Jew and every Christian is familiar with it.
What we are less familiar with, however, is exactly what a shepherd does. The shepherd spends all of his days and nights with his sheep. Sheep have no sense of direction, no means of self-defense and are not considered the brightest of God’s creatures. It is only the shepherd’s vigilance in finding good pasture ground with adequate water, caring for the injured, bringing back the sheep which stray into the thickets that assures the survival and well-being of the flock.
And all of the above applies during the day; at night things get much worse. That’s when the wolves come out, looking for an opportunity to prey on the young lambs or on the injured. The shepherd must lead the sheep into a cave or a pen surrounded by high stone walls and then lay down himself across the entrance way with a nail-studded club by his side. He literally puts his body between his flock and the terrors of the night.
I’m sure there are some small differences between one sheep and another, but none of it matters. If it weren’t for the constant care and protection of the shepherd, they all would soon be lambchops.
A good reflection this week would be to take this image to heart, perhaps with the help of Psalm 23, while reading the passage in John’s gospel. How well do I really understand that in my strivings for holiness and eternal life, none of it – absolutely none of it – comes about because of my efforts alone. Everything I need to become a disciple of Jesus and a part of the Kingdom now and forever comes to me through the grace of the loving Good Shepherd.
Jim Philipps (3rd Millennium Pilgrim)