Sunday Sermon for April 17, 2016, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Readings: Acts 13:14, 43-52; Rev 7:9, 14b-17; Jn 1o:27-30
Today we celebrate what is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the Gospel is always about our Lord shepherding His flock. On one hand, it is exceedingly comforting to know that Jesus is my Shepherd. This is not anything new, after all, in the Old Testament times God was the Shepherd of Israel. That is, until Israel rejected God and wanted a human king instead. Now God comes to us in human form as our Shepherd, but still we do not seem to want to follow Him very well.
Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading today that His sheep know His voice, they hear Him and they follow Him. So, that brings us back to the last sentence of the previous paragraph, we are acting like independent sheep who neither hear the Shepherd’s voice nor follow Him. If we are going to claim Jesus as our Shepherd and acknowledge Him as the Good Shepherd, then we need to live as good sheep and follow where He leads us.
If there is a problem with following Jesus as our Shepherd, we need to ask why that is. There are a couple of reasons. The first comes in the second reading where we read that the Lamb at the center of the throne will shepherd the sheep. That does not comfort us very well. After all, the idea of a shepherd is not only to lead the sheep to green pastures and to calm, fresh water; a shepherd is also supposed to protect the sheep from being attacked by wolves or other vicious creatures. How is a lamb going to protect anyone?
Moreover, when we know Who the Lamb is and what He did, why would we feel protected and why would we want to follow Him? After all, we know where He is going to lead us. Not to easy things like green pastures and calm waters; rather, it is to the desert and up Calvary. This is what we see in the first reading today when Saints Paul and Barnabas are preaching in Antioch of Pisidia. Just as it was in the life of the Shepherd, people liked what was being said, but then they turned and ran them out of town.
When we consider that the Lamb Who is our Shepherd did not protect Himself and has allowed His followers throughout history to be persecuted and martyred, why would we call Him the Good Shepherd and why would we want to follow Him? If we think back a few weeks we will recall that the Chief Priests jeered at our Lord at said that if He came down from the Cross, then they would believe in Him. We know that just the opposite is true for us: we believe in Him because He did not come down from the Cross.
This is a point of which we need to keep reminding ourselves. It is interesting that we are grateful and think it right that Jesus did not save Himself and come down from the Cross. However, when He leads us to that same place, we suddenly think it wrong that He wants us on the Cross and we, of course, want to get down. We think that we should save ourselves when our Shepherd did not save Himself. If we are going to have a share in the work of redemption and salvation, does it not make sense to us that we would also have a share in the means by which salvation and redemption have been won for us?
Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He does not spare us, even though we would often prefer to be spared. He wants to purify us in order to make us Saints. He wants to give us every opportunity to grow in holiness. Holiness is to be like Christ. So, if we are to be truly holy, we have to be conformed to Jesus Christ crucified.
Our Shepherd, rather than chasing away the wolves, teaches us how to defeat them. When we look at His example, we see that He did not get angry, He did not threaten, He did not lash out; rather, He was silent and gentle like a lamb before the shearer. We defeat the enemy by humility, by meekness and by charity. These virtues do not come naturally to most of us, nor to most people in our society. The only way to obtain to practice them in the midst of suffering.
So, this is where we realize that Jesus really is the Good, indeed, Best Shepherd. He knows our needs and He provides for them perfectly. Our task, then, is to try to be good sheep, to hear our Shepherd, to follow Him, and to cooperate with what He is doing in our lives.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.