Father Donald Senior, CP

May 3: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Follow the shepherd

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Ps 23:1-3, 4, 5, 6; 1 Pt 2:20-25; Jn 10:1-10

Jesus lived in an agrarian society and spent a lot of time near the Sea of Galilee, so it is not surprising that two prominent images for his mission are caring for the sheep and catching fish. 

Jesus’ first disciples were fishermen and he invited them to use their skills and their patience to catch people. This Sunday focuses on the other frequent metaphor, Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

Even today in the Middle East, one sees flocks of sheep everywhere in the countryside with a lone shepherd standing watch. Sheep, of course, are a vital source of food and their wool invaluable for clothing and blankets. No doubt this was a familiar everyday scene for Jesus, too, as it was for his ancestors. 

The readings for today display different facets of this biblical metaphor. The beloved responsorial Psalm 23 is frequently read at funerals or at times of distress like now during this pandemic. The image of a shepherd’s care and protection of his sheep is used to highlight the faithful love of God for his people. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. … He guides me to right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil, for you are at my side. With your rod and your staff that give me courage.”

The selection from the First Letter of Peter turns to another facet of the metaphor. We are like sheep “who have gone astray,” but by Christ’s life-giving death and resurrection we are saved: “By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”

Most prominent of all is the reading today from Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel. This is the basic reason why today has been traditionally named “Good Shepherd Sunday.” 

In this discourse Jesus draws on yet another dimension of the shepherd image, namely pastoral leadership. Jesus echoes the strong condemnation of false leaders cited centuries before by the prophet Ezekiel: “You consumed milk, wore wool, and slaughtered fatlings, but the flock you did not pasture. You did not strengthen the weak, nor heal the sick, nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the stray or seek the lost but ruled them harshly and brutally” (Ez 34:3-4).

Jesus’ condemnation of false religious authorities in his own day evokes these searing words of Ezekiel. Instead of being true pastors, they take care of themselves and ignore the needs of their people.

By contrast, Jesus is the good shepherd. John’s Gospel extends the metaphor further. Jesus protects the sheep from ravenous wolves by carefully sheltering them within the gates of the sheepfold. A false shepherd, who is intent on harming or stealing the sheep, tries to climb over the back fence; such a one, Jesus notes, is a “thief and a robber.” 

The good shepherd knows and loves his sheep and leads them in the right path. They, in turn, trust their shepherd.

This portrait of Jesus as the good shepherd who protects and leads the sheep concludes with a characteristic expression of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “I am the Gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” These “I am” sayings are found throughout John’s Gospel and are attached to various longings of the human spirit: “I am … the bread of life, the living water, the way, the truth, the light.” 

For John’s Gospel and for our Christian faith, Jesus reveals God’s intense love for us and points the way to authentic life. The last line of today’s Gospel says it all: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

We are a church that tragically has learned the difference between good pastors and those who have betrayed our trust. We also live in a world that appears to be upside down now and we need to put our trust in what gives life and endures. These are the teachings of Good Shepherd Sunday.






  • scripture