4th Sunday of Easter year B 2015:
Today our readings use some interesting images or analogies that help us to understand our relationship to Christ. The most obvious is Jesus as the Good shepherd.
Jesus helps to explain this one for us. The Good Shepherd is the one who lays down his life for his sheep. During this Easter season, and really all the time, we ceaselessly proclaim one central message: Jesus died out of love for us, and he rose so that we might have eternal life. From the earliest days in the Church this image of Christ as the good shepherd summarized and explained this central teaching. One of the earliest artistic depictions of Christ, from the earliest centuries of the Church, was not Jesus Crucified, but Jesus the shepherd.
Pope Francis has drawn on this image often. The shepherd is close to his sheep. As Jesus says, I know mine and mine know me. Jesus is not some distant ruler, or king in a palace. He is the good shepherd. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Word, through whom all things were made, became human. He wanted to be close to us. Shepherds are close to their sheep. Not only that, but shepherds take care of their sheep, they lead them through danger, they find them food, they protect the sheep from wolves and other predators. Jesus is the good shepherd. He became one of us to get close to us. If we listen to his voice and follow where he leads, he will guide us through the dangers of this life, he will strengthen and support us no matter what we face in our life. In a sense, we never have to wonder about Christ, because we know he will be there for us. All we have to do is look to the cross to see how much he loves us. All we have to do is contemplate the mystery of the Eucharist to see how he continues to lay down his life for us.
But, there are two other images used in the readings that shed light on us. In the second reading St. John calls us children of God, and Jesus calls us the sheep. I think that these two images tell us a lot about being a follower of Christ.
First, children of God. I don’t think it takes too much to think about all the wonderful aspects of children. Generally speaking people love kids and for good reason. Kids are cute, first of all. My mom used to say: good thing kids are cute, because sometimes we would want to give them back. Children are trusting and innocent. Children are joyful and quite funny. Onetime a priest friend and I were invited to spend time at a family’s house. We were sitting there talking, when a small child came up and asked my friend: is there a baby in your tummy. Hilarious. Maybe my friend could use a few trips to the gym. There is something beautifully admirable about how children live life. They have a joy and enthusiasm that can be contagious. Now there are drawbacks too. Children can be dirty, childish, foolish, and selfish. Certainly we don’t want to emulate these characteristics. But, as God’s children, we could certainly learn to be trusting, more joyful if we rely on our Good Shepherd the way children rely on their parents.
Next, sheep. I think we often romanticize the analogy of sheep, and there are many wonderful things about sheep. First of all, they taste pretty good: I love lamb. They produce wool that we can use to keep us warm, they provide milk and nourishment. But, there are many drawbacks to sheep as well. They smell bad, they are not really very intelligent, they are prone to wander off and get in trouble. This is a good analogy for us as well. We don’t always do the right thing, we wander into sinfulness and selfishness.
These two analogies can help us to remember the beauty and charm of the human race: we can be trusting, we can live with joy, we can provide warmth and nourishment for those in need. But, these analogies also help us to remember our weaknesses and shortcomings: we can be selfish, we can be foolish, we can wander and stray. While it is good to remember our strengths, it can also be great to remember our weaknesses, not simply to beat ourselves up. But, if we remember our weaknesses and shortcomings then we will remember that we need God in our lives. We will remember that as God’s children, we need to rely on him to be our compassionate and merciful Father. We will remember that as Christ’s flock, we need to follow him and allow him to guide us through the difficulties of life.
Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. He knows us. Hopefully we are daily striving to know him more in our lives. As we gather at this Holy Mass, the Good shepherd is calling to us, guiding us and feeding us through this Holy Eucharist.