15 May 2011
Acts of Apostles 2:14, 36-41
1 Peter 2:20-25
A certain young woman in her early thirties was a very fearful person. She was fearful of so many things: her health, that she would lose her job, that she might be killed in a car accident any day she travelled to work. She was fearful of risking marriage in case she married the wrong man etc. She really lived with so much fear in her life. That was 10 years ago. Since then there has been a great transformation in the life of this young woman. She actually met a young man who understanding her fears gradually led her to an ever-greater freedom. She eventually married him.
This young man reminds me of the last verse of today’s gospel when Jesus says ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full’. Of course the young man would never compare himself to what Jesus came to do. But he certainly helped the young woman who became his wife to have a much fuller, happier and less fearful existence. He led her out of her fears as the shepherd leads out his sheep.
What about you and me here this morning? How would we describe the quality of our lives? Would we say that we are close to living life to the fulness? Are we at peace? Do we experience much joy in our lives? That is not to say that there won’t be difficulties and trials but deep down do we have this inner peace so many desire. So where do we go or to whom do we go to find this peace and joy? The great German mystic Meister Eckhart wrote: “As far as you are in God, thus far you are in peace and as far as you are outside God you are outside peace…for where you lack peace, you must necessarily lack God, since lack of peace comes from the creature and not from God”.
The image used for Jesus in the gospel today is that of a shepherd. Jesus was living in a rural setting so the image of sheep and shepherd would have been familiar to the Jews. For the Jews down through their history God was seen to be a Good Shepherd for his people, always caring for them.
In the rural set-up of the time of Jesus a number of shepherds would bring their flocks home before night came. They would have put them into a common sheepfold or enclosure. Each night one shepherd would keep watch over all the sheep to guard against robbers or wild animals that could steal or kill the sheep. Early next morning all the shepherds would arrive, they would enter the sheepfold and call their sheep one by one, by name. The sheep would know the voice of their own shepherd who would lead them out to where they could pasture. Each shepherd knew his own sheep very well.
Like the young woman there are people who would are enclosed in their fears or addictions like drink, drugs, sex, money or power etc. That is why Jesus the Good Shepherd is inviting all to leave what is enclosing them and reach out for the fullness of life. He is inviting them to follow him to a greater freedom, peace, in fact to the fulness of life he offers in the gospel today.
There are many voices calling out to us each day. The voices of advertisements urging us to buy this or that product and so be happy. As if it was that easy. We rarely see sad faces in the adverts. We are children of God and called into an ever-greater relationship with Jesus the Good Shepherd who alone can guide us along the way to true peace and joy. I know a man who once decided to explore a large forest and nearly died of thirst because he got completely lost for nearly 3 days. Luckily someone passed by the place where he was and so his life was saved. From then on he would never enter the forest without a guide. Jesus the Good Shepherd is like that. A shepherd is there to guide his flock. We have a sure guide for life if we have a good relationship with Jesus. It is more than just saying prayers or going to Mass. It is asking him to teach us to become a real friend of his and have an ever-deeper friendship with him. The danger is that Jesus can remain a stranger to us unless we live close to him.
In Jesus’ time the true shepherd guided his flock, he nourished them, went after the stray, knew each sheep by name and assured their safety. Jesus does all this and even more for us if we allow him.
Before Jesus left the world, he commissioned Peter to feed his lambs and tend his sheep (John 21:15-16). The work of shepherding God’s flocks is an ongoing task that is entrusted to the whole church with Peter as head. As today we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday or Vocations Sunday we need to ask ourselves two important questions:
1 Am I a faithful member of God’s flock?
2 How could I participate more closely in the work of shepherding God’s flock?
Popes and bishops as well as parents, school teachers, church ministers etc – all participate in various forms of shepherding God’s flock. How can I be a better shepherd in my own state, reaching out with understanding and compassion to the weak and misguided dropouts of church and society, so that through me they may hear the loving voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd? Let us pray for genuine vocations to the priesthood, religious life and the lay state.
“Lord Jesus, may I allow you to be the Good Shepherd in all areas of my life”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA