26 April, 2015
Once when I worked in Africa, as an effort to generate funds for our community we started raising sheep and we employed a worker to look after them. He was more than a hired man; he genuinely cared for the sheep. Once he was on vacation for some weeks, and when he came back, he remarked immediately that one or two of the sheep had wounds. We had hired another man to look after the sheep during the other’s vacation but he never noticed anything wrong. It was quite clear to me that the relationship of the two men with the sheep was very different.
The gospel today is like that. Using a scene very typical of the life of the people Jesus compares himself to the Good Shepherd, the one who really knows his sheep. He cares for them with great gentleness. He has a great familiarity with them.
Today Jesus is telling us very simply what kind of relationship he has with the Father and the type of relationship he wants with us. He wants an easy familiarity with us. We don’t deny that Jesus is God but it would be sad if we used that as an excuse to avoid the deep friendship with us that he desires so much. If we were honest, where would we put our relationship with Jesus? Would it be high up the list of our relationships or maybe not?
Twice in today’s gospel Jesus says that he lays down his life for his sheep. It is a self-sacrificing love. Jesus, the Good Shepherd on earth mirrors God the Good Shepherd. Where have we experienced modern-day good shepherds ourselves – dedicated, loyal, caring people? So who are the Good Shepherds today? Maybe parents who spend time caring for their families often at great cost, teachers who bring the best out of their pupils, nurses, doctors, who do a little bit extra for their patients, especially when they are vulnerable to show that they are special. Also politicians who put the common good of the people they represent ahead of their own vested interests. These people are so good they wouldn’t do it any other way. They genuinely care for others, far beyond the call of duty. I have no doubt that many of you have done the same in your own lives, caring for your families and children when they were sick or in difficulties growing up. When you have looked after ageing parents and friends etc. You have also been good shepherds.
A priest tells the story of being at the scene of a particularly bad accident. A young motorcyclist had had a horrific crash. It was 3 o’clock in the morning and a nurse on her way home from a dance stopped to help. She knelt in the dirt and the blood and her best efforts at mouth-to-mouth resuscitation were in vain. Finally she cradled the young lad’s head in her arms, cried and prayed. Her beautiful dress was ruined. The priest said it was a scene he would never forget. For him she was:
– A good nurse
– A Good Shepherd
– A Christ figure.
We all know people like these. People who keep alive the work and example of Jesus the Good Shepherd today, often in very difficult circumstances and who are not always appreciated. In the gospel today we see some qualities of the Good Shepherd as revealed by Jesus. a) He knows his own sheep by name, that is, he knows them intimately. b) He lays down his life for his sheep. c) He wants to invite others to be part of his flock, his friends. d) He has a great interest in the unity of all his friends. e) The Good Shepherd Jesus is above all our servant. Just as the Shepherd serves his flock and looks after their interests Jesus is both our Servant and Lord. Ultimately Jesus is revealing to us who God our Father is in his love and concern for our good. He invites us to be witnesses to this.
Today is often referred to as Vocation Sunday. In the message of the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul ll for the 40th World Day of Prayer for Vocations he emphasizes the call to the Christian vocation as essentially being a call to loving service of others. The Pope reminds us that just as Jesus was the ‘Servant’ of the Father so must we be for each other. Let us pray especially for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life but also for the vocation of the laity, that whatever our particular calling is, we would show that the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd was not in vain. Each of us lay or clerical has a vocation. None is more important than the other. The best vocation for each of us is the one God has called us to. In the second reading today let us take to heart the truth written there. “Think of the love the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children and that is what we are”. What a privilege.
“Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, help us through the power of the Holy Spirit to be Good Shepherds to each other. Amen”.
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA.