Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday
Throughout various sections of Sacred Scripture, the image of shepherd has traditionally been a prominent description of the relationship that exists between God and His people. The usage goes all the way back to the Book of Genesis, where it says that Joseph was saved “by the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, the God of your father” (49:24). That same imagery would then be used by Moses, by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and Zechariah, and, of course, by David in the Book of Psalms.
In those sections God is described as a shepherd who provides for His sheep, who feeds His flock, gathering them together to care for them. He is the ultimate Shepherd of His people, providing guidance, sustenance, and protection (Psalm 23), and He intends for the Kings and other leaders of the Jewish people to be those shepherds as well. Ultimately, we know that they will fail at that task and the Father would send His Son into the world to show His people their true Shepherd. In fact, Jesus adopted the image of a Shepherd to highlight what His mission would be.
Throughout the area of Palestine, the word shepherd was synonymous with selfless love, sincerity, commitment, and sacrificial service – all of which Jesus embodied in His earthly ministry. The prophets pointed out the main duties of the Good Shepherd. He was to lead the sheep to the pasture, providing them with food and water and protecting them on the journey. Often, he went in front and the sheep followed behind. He was vigilant over them, guarding them, and not allowing them to get lost in the desert or become victims of robbers and wild animals. But if they were lost, if they would venture away from the flock, he would go in search of them and would heal their wounds when they were found. And finally, he was ready to surrender his life for his sheep. We can see how this all points to Jesus.
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees. In the chapters leading up to this passage, which is known as the Good Shepherd Discourse, Jesus has been putting himself at odds with the Pharisees. He has consistently challenged their way of leadership and called them out for putting the law above the needs of the members of the Jewish community. And they have issued their own harsh words towards Jesus in reply, even going so far as accusing Him of being from the devil because He had healed someone on the Sabbath. Can you imagine? Calling Jesus a son of Satan because He had healed someone? The Pharisees very obviously missed the point of who Jesus was, even though He had spoken about His mission pretty clearly.
Jesus’ response made it abundantly clear to them who He truly was; He tells them that He is the Good Shepherd. He is not a thief or a robber who comes to take advantage of the people. Thieves and robbers care nothing for the sheep, for the people of Israel – they are only concerned with their own well-being.
The Pharisees knew exactly what Jesus was saying; they knew that He was speaking about them, calling them out for how they had failed to live up to the responsibilities that God had placed on them as the leaders of the Jewish people. But they also knew who Jesus was claiming to be. By calling Himself the Good Shepherd they knew that He was claiming the title of Savior; He was stepping further into His identity as the Messiah. He was telling the Pharisees that the time had come for God to step into the picture and save His sheep. And, furthermore, He was telling them that He would stop at nothing, even offering to sacrifice His own life, to make that a reality.
Jesus was very much aware of what His words would evoke from the Pharisees. He knew that it would lead to further calls for His persecution; He knew that it would eventually lead to His crucifixion. And yet, He didn’t let that stop Him. He had come to restore the proper relationship between the Father and humanity. His purpose was to open the door for all God’s children to return to Him, to secure for the entire human race salvation and redemption. Ultimately, that would only be accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
But what does this mean for us? Why is this something the Church calls us to reflect on during this 4th Sunday of Easter? I think it’s meant to be an encouragement for us to not forget who Jesus is, to not forget why He came into the world, to not forget about why the Cross had to happen, to not forget what His sacrifice secured for us. But it’s also meant to be an invitation, a challenge to examine our lives and to reflect on whether we are listening to and following the voice of the Shepherd. It should make us ask ourselves the questions: am I listening to the right voice?; am I following the will of God?; am I striving to be the best disciple of Jesus that I can be?
There are so many voices in the world today that are trying to distract us, seeking to lead us away from the path that Jesus desires for us to walk. So many voices are trying to lead us astray, to prevent us from listening to the voice of the Shepherd, from hearing His call. And sadly, many of us are falling into that trap.
So, this should be a bit of a wakeup call for us. It should be an opportunity for us to really look at how we are living our lives, to take an introspective look at our hearts. It’s an invitation to be honest with ourselves, to call to mind those areas of our lives that we are keeping from the Lord, that we aren’t inviting Him into. It’s a challenge to bring to the Lord those areas of sin, those moments of lack of trust or lack of faith, those areas of doubt and confusion, those moments of suffering and hurt, those things that keep us from following Him…to bring those things to Him so that He can speak to us in the midst of them, so that He can bring healing and restoration to our lives, so that He can lead us to freedom.
In the last verse of our Gospel, Jesus says this to us: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” That sums up the purpose for His coming in one sentence. The Lord desires us to be in freedom. He desires for us to live in love. He desires for us to be who He created us to be, to be able to stand in our identity as His beloved sons and daughters. But the only way to do that is to be in relationship with Him – to listen to the voice of the Shepherd.
Throughout this week, I encourage all of us to reflect on what voices we are allowing to lead us. What voices are we listening to? And is it the voice of the Shepherd? Ask the Father as you approach the altar today to receive the Body and Blood of His Son for a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit to be able to discern what is the true voice of the Shepherd. Ask for help in hearing His voice. Recognize that we are sheep, that we need the Good Shepherd to guide us. Let’s ask the Lord to lead us on the narrow path toward Heaven and to keep us safe from harm all the days of our lives.
 Fr. Antony Kadavil, “Reflections for the IV Sunday of Easter,” Vatican News. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2020-04/gospel-reflection-third-sunday-easter-shepherd-vocation-news03.html
Photo: Mountain Paradise by Jaka Škrlep. Used under the Unsplash license.