The people to whom Jesus spoke the words in today’s gospel were familiar with the notion of shepherd. Their scriptures were filled with the teachings that God was the shepherd of Israel. We all know the 23rd psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’ – this beautiful psalm speaks of the providential care of God for the people of Israel. It speaks of God’s providential care for all of us.
What is the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep? First of all the shepherd has an intimate knowledge of his sheep, he knows his sheep, he calls them by name, they hear his voice and follow him. The sheep will not respond to a stranger’s voice. The shepherd protects his sheep. The shepherd’s staff has two uses, one as a weapon to use when he needs to protect the sheep from predators, the crook of his staff he uses to hook a sheep by the neck to lift it out of a place of danger. The shepherd leads his sheep to pastures rich in nourishment and to refreshing waters so that they can be strong and healthy. The shepherd has an investment in his sheep, he uses their wool and finally he sells their meat. When we stop to think about it the sheep lay down their lives in gratitude for all the care the shepherd has shown them.
For the next several Sundays of this Easter season we will be hearing some familiar themes from the Gospel of John. Jesus makes many imaginative “I am” statements. “I am the light.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the living water.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say twice “I am the good shepherd.” Jesus was not like the religious leaders of His time whom He compares to hireling, hired hands that had no investment in the sheep, no real concern for the sheep’s safety and well being, hirelings who would take off in times of danger. Jesus would lay down His life for His sheep.
Usually Good Shepherd Sunday is Vocation Sunday, a day on which we pray that young men and women will seriously consider giving their lives to the service of God’s people. But when we stop to think of it we are all called to be shepherds. We are all called to be sources of life to others. Think of the shepherding that goes on in our parish family; parents shepherding their children, guiding and directing them with life values and faith in God. Spouses shepherding each other, supporting each other, encouraging each others, understanding each other when things are tough, rejoicing in each other in the good times of their lives. Think of the shepherding done by dedicated teachers as they care for their students. Think of the shepherding done by those in the medical profession, the counseling profession. Think of the shepherding done in the care of the aged and those diminished in mind or body.
We are called to be shepherds in our relationships and friendships. In one way or another each of us is called to be shepherd, leading others to green pastures and fresh life giving waters, restoring each others spirits. Each of us is called to be a shepherd to others and we walk with them in the dark valley of depression, grief or other difficult times. In all these situations we lay down our lives, we put others first as we give them our time, support, encouragement, understanding, and forgiveness.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that each of us be the shepherd we are called to be, as priest, as spouse, as parent, as friend, as neighbour, as co-worker, being a source of live and lover to others as Christ, the Good Shepherd, Who laid down His life for us, is the source of our life and love.