Becoming a Good Shepherd

04-22-2018HomiliesFr. Chad King

Today, on this 4th Sun of Easter, like it is every year, our Gospel is a portion of John chapter 10 in which Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd. This is a well-known analogy of Jesus which is given to help us know who He is. But before you think, Oh I’ve heard all about the Good Shepherd, I want us to look at this passage as a chance to measure our lives against the ideal of the Good Shepherd, and challenge ourselves in the areas we fall short. We know that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will never leave or abandon but will always care for and protect us, his flock. Indeed, God, in Christ Jesus, has entered into a covenant with us, his people, and He will never go back on that covenant. Therefore, He sent His Son Jesus, to be the Good Shepherd, who has laid down his life for us, his flock, to save us and bring us back into Communion with Him. God is the Good Shepherd who will never go back on that covenant He has made with us, His people; but this homily will not focus so much on this truth itself, as much as how we, his people, are to relate to that truth. I feel inspired to challenge each of us, including myself, to reflect upon the high standard that we are given in the Good Shepherd. Hopefully, for many, if not all of us, this homily will cause us to take a hard look at ourselves, our lives, and those around us, to be inspired by the Good Shepherd. So, let us ask our Lord to open our mind and heart to what He wants to reveal to you today.

Our Gospel today begins by pointing out who a good shepherd is NOT. A good shepherd is not a hired man, because a shepherd who is hired does not treat the sheep like they are his own. He works for pay, and so when things get difficult, he’ll run away because he has no concern for the sheep.  Those of us who work, we know well about services rendered and services received.  Chances are we have a job description, our employer expects us to fulfill the specified conditions of our job to the best of our ability, and we in turn will receive a specified pay.  If we don’t keep our end of the contract, then our employer won’t not keep theirs.  But, it we are living in the light of the Good Shepard, then we will be fully faithful to our job- be that school work if you are a kid, or as adults, our work inside or outside the house.  We should work tirelessly, and always do our best with the work we have to do, just as the Good Sheppard has done for his sheep. 

In our relationships, living out the standards of faithfulness like a good shepherd is particularly true. We should be the faithful friend, family member.  And because most of us are married, let me highlight a particular challenge.  Far too often in our society, married people have the mentality of a contract, even though many have entered into a Covenant.  And thus, they think they have a right to break it if the other doesn’t fulfill certain conditions, and when things get difficult they can run if their needs aren’t being met, because they are not a good shepherd.  But you and I are called to be like Christ, like the Good Shepherd.  In a Covenant, in a Sacrament, we cannot, we must not, have the mentality that the conditions of the contract apply.  No, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, he has laid down his life for his sheep.  We are to lay down our lives for the other.  That is why any kind of contraception is so sinful, because it is limiting the life-giving love - it is saying, I don’t love you fully because I won’t give that part of me to you.  A husband and wife, who have entered into a Covenant, they, we, are all called to be like the Good Shepherd.  And that is the high standard of marriage God has given.  It is also why the Church allows annulments, not divorces, for those who do not know or are not capable of living up to that standard with God’s grace when they say ‘I do’.  

And thanks be to God that He is a Good Shepherd, for if God treated our relationship with Him like a contract, then He would have left and abandoned us long ago, and rightly so.  But God is faithful, even if we are not. He will still be faithful to the Covenant He has made, He will still love us unconditionally, even if we do not.  I know that there are many marriages where there is a lack of unconditional love and even unfaithfulness, but we, like the Good Shepherd, are called to be faithful.  We are to do our best to love the other even if we aren’t being loved as we want or deserve, for we have entered into a Covenant, not a contract.  As we draw closer to God, then the Good Shepherd will help us to love like Him.  So I ask all of you who are married, are you a good shepherd?  Make time to reflect on how faithful you are, and how can you improve, in laying down your life, sacrificing yourself, for the good of your spouse?        

After Jesus revealed that a Good Shepherd is not hired and has not entered into a contract, Jesus, in our Gospel, goes on to describe who a Good Shepherd is.  “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep”.  Notice that Jesus is not just speaking about a general knowledge that a shepherd has with the sheep; that the sheep will recognize the voice of the Shepherd, and not another.  But Jesus is also speaking about a deeper intimate knowledge- the kind that He has with the Father, a Trinitarian knowledge.  There is a mutual intimate knowledge and love between the Father and Son.  God the Father loves His only-begotten Son and has outpoured His life upon Him, everything that the Father has is given to the Son.  And Jesus has received the fullness of the Father’s love, all that He is, and has given the fullness of Himself out of love back to the Father.  So that there is a mutual, reciprocal, out pouring of life and love in the exchange of persons between the Persons of the Trinity.  And my brothers and sisters, God invites us to share fully in that love.  The Trinity wants to have that same mutual intimate knowledge and love with us who are called to be his disciples.  Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwell in one another, so they invite us to dwell in them.  God has given the fullness of Himself to each and every one of us who are Baptized and Confirmed.  We have been given the fullness of Himself, and in every Mass, again, we receive the fullness of God.  God desires us to have a deep intimate knowledge of who He is.  Therefore, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who has laid down his life, he has given the fullness of Himself, for us, his sheep, and brought us into the life of the Trinity.  God has done, and continues to do this, but how well have we, and do we, receive the fullness of God’s outpouring and give ourselves back to Him?

Hopefully you have all heard that you are called to help get your spouse, your kids, and help get everyone, to Heaven.  While that is true, that can seem so vague and distant, as Heaven can seem vague and distant. But you are called to help your spouse, your kids, and everyone, to have an intimate knowledge of the Trinity.  Does your spouse, do your kids, intimately know God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?  Are they fostering the kind of relationship God wants with them through prayer and worship?  Are they striving to receive all that God is and striving to give themselves back in return in love?  If you don’t know, or if not, then you and I have some work to do.  That is the high calling we are given, that is what it means to be a good shepherd of those who are around us.

Knowing that we are weak, selfish, sinful human beings that are still given such a great responsibility, and knowing that we have a lot of work to do, how do we become the good shepherd we are meant to be?  Here, reflecting upon the image of the Good Shepherd is helpful.  You know the image in which the Good Shepherd will go out searching for the 1 lost sheep, and upon finding, puts him on his shoulders, and bring him back into the flock.  Although Jesus knows where we are, we are not lost to Him, but he goes out and meets us where we are at, he loves us there; and if we are willing to be found, he will put us on His shoulders and bring us back to the flock.  God always brings us back into the flock, He doesn’t leave us stranded, but restores the unity and community for which we are made- both with the Trinity and others.  But it is only when we first allow ourselves to be found, to be met where we are, in all the mess that is around us, can we be restored.  And thus, after we have allowed ourselves to be found and restored can we then also meet others where they are, love them there, and love them too much to let them stay there, but gently love them into the unity and community they are made for.

That my brothers and sisters is why we are given this Good Shepherd Sunday, so that we can come to intimately know God, our Good Shepherd, and become the good shepherd we are meant to be for our family and those around us.  This week, join me in reflecting and praying that He will teach us how to be good shepherds.