by Rev. Ken Schnipke, C.PP.S., Cincinnati Province
“I am the Good Shepherd”
The fourth Sunday of Easter is often called Good Shepherd Sunday. The gospel reveals the love Jesus has for each of us as the Good Shepherd.
In biblical times, the shepherd stayed with the sheep most of the time. He led them during the day, helped them to find water and food, protected them from any danger, helped them find their way when they got lost and often slept near them at night to keep them safe. Villages usually had an enclosed area nearby surrounded by stones or briars with one opening. Each night sheep in the village would be gathered into the sheepfold and the shepherds would take turns acting as a gatekeeper, lying down across the opening of the sheepfold becoming the gate – keeping the sheep in and the wolves out. If the sheep were threatened in any way, the shepherd would stand by them to defend them. In the morning, each shepherd would return with a particular call or whistle which their sheep would know and follow. They would not respond to any other shepherd, only to their own. Rather than follow behind the sheep, pushing them along as modern sheepherders do, the shepherds in the time of Jesus would walk before their sheep as their leader.
The message Jesus the Good Shepherd has several layers. Initially, just as the shepherd was always with his sheep, forming the gate and guarding them with his very life, so too Jesus is the gatekeeper who is always with us, guarding us with his very life and keeping us safe. He is the one who helps us find our way when we are lost or stray. Secondly, the sheep know their master’s voice and follow. Likewise, we are called to know and follow the voice of Jesus. The challenge is hearing the voice of the Lord among so many voices today. Jesus reminds us that he is the true voice we need to listen to and follow. Thirdly, Jesus portrays a true leader not as one who pushes followers out into the dangers of the world, but one who leads them with courage and faith. In very simplistic terms, Jesus says a leader must be one who practices what they preach. The parent who teaches their children to pray and be good Christians must also take the time themselves to pray and to live what they teach. The priest, religious or teacher who proclaims God’s love must also live that love. And the boss who demands a certain quality of work, must also be willing to live up to those standards. Lastly, Jesus is pointing out that he is the gate. He is the one through whom we need to pass in order to find our way to the Father and to the peace and joy of the heavenly kingdom.
May we listen to Jesus the Good Shepherd and follow him closely.