The 4th Sunday of Easter every year has become known as Good Shepherd Sunday, as the Gospel each year is taken from a section of John chapter 10, where Jesus uses the image of sheep and shepherd to teach his disciples. So today, we start to transition in our Gospel from the Resurrection accounts to prepare for Pentecost and the start of the Catholic Church. So let us prepare ourselves too.
To help understand the image Jesus uses today of the sheep and shepherd, at night the shepherds would put their sheep in a corral with stone walls to help keep the sheep contained. And there is only 1 gate to enter in and out of it, and a gatekeeper who knew the shepherds would stay in front of the gate. Therefore, any strangers or thieves would have to go over the walls because they couldn’t go through the gate. He would let the shepherds in though, and the shepherd would call his sheep by name, and the sheep knew and would follow the shepherds voice. This is such a powerful and meaningful image. But the disciples didn’t understand the meaning of this figure of speech. Therefore, Jesus clarified that He himself “is the gate, and anyone who goes through Him will be saved and will find pasture in eternal life”. Therefore, not only is Jesus the Good Shepherd who leads his flock to the green pasture of salvation, but He is also the gate- the only way entrance way to eternal life. However, this is not just nice imagery Jesus is using to instruct his disciples, but it is actually a fulfillment of the Old Testament in which God foreshadows that He will be the Good Shepherd who will seek and save the lost sheep.
Listen to a few verses from Ezekiel chapter 34: “Thus says the Lord God, Ho, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Shouldn’t shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not called back, the lost you have not sought. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd. My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. Thus says the Lord, Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when some of his sheep has been scattered abroad, so will I seek out my sheep; and I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness”… What a powerful truth- that God seeks out those who are lost. But what day of clouds and thick darkness might God have in mind when he will rescue his scattered sheep? If you know your Bible- that is exactly the way of the Crucifixion is described- as darkness came over the earth. So from the Cross, Jesus is gathering all his lost sheep to Himself, or is at least making it possible for them to be found and be saved.
So we know that Christ is both the gate, the source and entry to eternal life, but also the Good Shepherd who leads us, His flock, to the verdant pastures of salvation. Now that is pretty straightforward, something I’m sure we all understand and believe in; but now let me continue this homily to use this Gospel and bring about deeper meaning for each of us personally. The Church, in her Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, refers to this imagery saying: “The Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ. It is a flock of which God Himself foretold He would He would shepherd, and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds; are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and Prince of the shepherds, who gave His life for the sheep”.
So my brothers and sisters, we who are members of the Church are sheep who know that Christ is the gate and are hopefully letting ourselves to be led by our Good Shepherd. But mysteriously, even though the Church is and always will be protected from all evil and led by our Good Shepherd to eternal life in Heaven, God still desires his Church to be led by human shepherds. Shepherds, you know, are to lead their flock to salvation. So you and I, every member of the Church are sheep, but we are also shepherds. There are other lost and staying sheep that God has put us in charge of to lead.
First of all, myself. God and the Church has given me the title of Pastor- which means shepherd. And my role as Pastor of Corpus Christi is to lead each and every one of you to Heaven. No small task, right? So on this Good Shepherd Sunday, I renew my vow to be the best shepherd I can be for your good. Pope Francis, ever a good shepherd, famously encouraged priests to become so close they start to smell like their sheep. I apologize for any way that I have fed myself and looked after my own interests and needs before your own. And so I apologize for any times, to use Ezekiel- the weak I have not strengthened, the sick I have not healed, the crippled I have not bound up, the strayed I have not called back, the lost I have not sought. They were scattered, because there was no shepherd. My heart truly goes out to all those who are lost and do not know the Good Shepherd. So I renew my vow to be the best shepherd I can be. But I need your help.
All of you too are shepherds, and remember a shepherd is to lead their flock to salvation. If you are married, you are a shepherd of your spouse and are to lead them to heaven. If you are a parent, you are to lead your child to heaven. If you are a baptized Christian, you are to lead those who do not know Christ to come to know Him and so they too can enter through the only gate to eternal life. For those of you who are younger and do not know your vocation yet- your vocation in life is to be a shepherd. Some of you young men are called to become a priest, what a wonderful life it is. Some of you are called to enter religious life and so serve the Church in that amazing way. If you get married, as I said, you are to be a shepherd and lead your family to Heaven. Therefore, I ask you children to seek the Good Shepherd with all your heart and ask how He is calling you to serve the Church and lead others to salvation. For all of you, as I have, I ask you to reflect on: the weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the crippled you have not bound up, the strayed you have not called back, the lost you have not sought. Think of how many people in the world who do not know Christ, they are lost and scattered, because there was no shepherd.
So finally, how are we to become Good shepherds in the image of Christ? First off, we need to become better sheep, we need to truly listen to His voice and follow Him. How many of you really know God’s voice? Do you hear Him calling out your name? Do you really believe that God knows you by name- or do you think that God only knows the name or talks to other people? If you do know that God knows your name, do you really take time and listen to His voice everyday? In the midst of all the noise and chaos of the other sheep around us, are we able to hear and recognize the voice of our Good Shepherd every day? Many people, if they do pray every day, spend much of the time doing the talking and are just ‘saying the prayers’- but how can we be good shepherds if we don’t know the voice of the Good Shepherd instructing us every day? We also get to know the Good Shepherd through how He has revealed Himself, through the Scriptures. Do you take time to read and study the Scriptures to really get to know God and His love and desire for the salvation of every person? We know that Christ saved his sheep from the Cross, that is often times a forgotten way for us to be a good shepherd. As our 2nd reading says, “if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you too should follow in his footsteps”. If there are people in your life who are away from God and His Church, and you have done all you can to lead them and talk to them, then it is a great thing to continue praying, but also to fast, sacrifice, and offer up any sufferings for their salvation.
So now let us renew our vows - and let us ask our Good Shepherd to strengthen and nourish us with His body and blood, and teach us to be good shepherds to seek the lost sheep of His flock.BACK TO LIST