Fourth Sunday of Easter Year A 2017:
Every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter we hear about Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd. So you will often here this called Good Shepherd Sunday. St. Peter in the Second Reading talks about us returning to the Shepherd and Guardian of our Souls. Jesus tells us that he is the good shepherd and he came so that they might have life and have it abundantly. Indeed, the words of the Psalm say it so well: the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of our most beloved images of Jesus. You see statues of Jesus with a sheep on his shoulders, pictures and paintings. This is often the image we use when explaining Jesus’ love for us when we speak to children. In fact, the earliest depiction of Jesus in Christian art comes from the 3rd Century. This depiction of Jesus was found in one of the ancient catacombs. In that image, Jesus is not on the cross, he is not teaching, he is the good shepherd.
But, I wanted to reflect just a little bit on what this means. How can we speak about God? How can we know about him?
If we stop and think about it, God is way beyond our comprehension. God is eternal, all powerful, infinite. God is 3 persons but one divine substance. God is transcendent, our little human minds simply aren’t capable of comprehending God in his entirety. So, anything and everything we say about God will be incomplete. We say God is loving, God is merciful, God is patient, God is kind. All these attributes are true, but they don’t sum up the essence of God.
There is actually quite a difficult problem here. Human language is quite limited. Since it is a product of limited human beings, language can only take us so far. In fact, people in history have tried to argue that since language cannot capture the essence of God, that it would actually be better not to say anything about God, since by speaking about God we will always fall short.
But, the Church rejects this extreme position, because we follow the example of Christ in the gospel today. While we acknowledge that human language cannot grasp the essence of God, it says in the gospel that Jesus spoke to them using figures of speech.
Jesus says: I am the sheep gate. Now, obviously, he is not literally a gate. Gates don’t look like human beings. So, it’s quite obvious that Jesus is using an image to try to explain a transcendent reality. In this case, the image of the sheep gate is trying to explain a great mystery. The image of the gate is an image for the communion between God and humanity. We know that this communion was lost with the original sin. Jesus is the new gate, open that leads to heaven. These are tremendous mysteries that we can never fully grasp, but by reflecting on these images, our minds and hearts can be filled with God’s truth, even if we cannot know it fully.
What is your favorite image? I’m assigning homework this week. Take some time this week to reflect on your favorite image. Maybe it’s the good shepherd. Just pray psalm 23 slowly and fill in all the blanks: he leads me to green pastures, what does that mean for me in my life? Maybe it’s the gate: Lord lead me into paradise. Maybe it’s the image of faith being an anchor that gives us stability in difficult times. Maybe it’s the image of the Church being the great boat that keeps us safe on our journey to the distant shore. Maybe it’s the rock in the desert that once struck gushed forth life giving water.
There are so many images in scripture that elevate our hearts and minds to the mysteries of God. On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we let our imaginations soar. Jesus spoke using those figures of speech, not to confuse us. But, to inspire us. May our reflection upon Christ the Good Shepherd make us aware of his love and care for us, the sheep of his flock.