Fourth Sunday of Easter Acts 13:14, 43-52 Revelation 7:9, 14b-17 John 10:27-30
For generations, biblical scholars, homilists and religious educators introduced the concept of the Good Shepherd by talking about the sheep and shepherds. Today, Catholic Oregonians who live in cities are probably more familiar with the concept of the biblical Good Shepherd than they are with sheep. For months, we have prayed for a Good Shepherd to lead and guide us in this Archdiocese. We talked about the characteristics he might have and then prayed those same prayers when we found ourselves without a Holy Father. In the process of prayer and conversation, we learned what a Good Shepherd would be. We no longer needed to learn about sheep to better appreciate the image of the Good Shepherd.
Today’s Gospel is not really about sheep; it’s about a very particular Shepherd — one who is ever attentive, whose name has power, and whose love for us is so intense that he would give his life. Like sheep, for the most part we are unaware of the goodness of the Shepherd. We sometimes follow without thinking. We do not notice when we have been led to the right path and frequently do not see the danger we avoided.
In the Gospel, Jesus describes the relationship between himself as Shepherd and those who follow him. He knows us and we follow him. No one has the power to take him from us. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of Israel as sheep wandering aimlessly on the hillside and said that Yahweh would come and gather his people. This tells us why Jesus pointed to himself as the Good Shepherd. In his life here, he became a refuge for those who would otherwise be excluded from polite society: the public sinner, the prostitute, the disabled, the tax collector and — at the time of Jesus — the Gentile.
In the First Reading, we hear about Paul and Barnabas extending their ministry to the Gentiles. This was not simply Jesus setting up a new politically correct way for us to act — this was Jesus gathering the scattered children.
Christ asks us to follow him — to see where he has been and walk in his footsteps. We look to our leaders to shepherd us on that path. When all is pleasant, we have little difficulty following Jesus or those who lead us in the Church. All is resurrection! All is life! All is glory! But the path of life is strewn with countless delays and misunderstandings. To avoid these, we stray from the path. We become “lost” and the Shepherd must seek us out. Christ must find those who have promised to follow close upon his heels. He seems never to tire of doing this. The history of his people is a story of those who are always being sought and found. It is the story of persons who lose sight of their goal.
In the Paschal mystery Jesus showed himself to be the suffering servant. God, by raising him up, has made him shepherd of all the sheep. The meaning of Easter is an event that ought to lead to our own conversion.