Good Shepherd Sunday
Chances are each time we hear about the Good Shepherd, our minds conjure up a picture of Jesus in long flowing robes, carrying a staff and walking ahead of some sheep.
I have always been fascinated about the way sheep are herded. They follow their shepherd, who walks in front of them. They are not goaded like cattle. Cowboys herd cattle from behind, pushing them forward. Not so with sheep.
If we are to look at Jesus as the Good Shepherd, that’s a nice image – Jesus walking ahead of us along the way. He shows us the way. He’s been there ahead of us. In Mark 10:32, we are told that the disciples were going up to Jerusalem “and Jesus was leading the way.” And of course, along the way, he was teaching and forming them.
Apparently, it is the voice of the shepherd that controls the sheep. “My sheep hear my voice,” says Jesus in today’s gospel. The sheep distinguish the voice of their one only shepherd from that of others. They only follow the one whose voice they recognize.
In another place Jesus distinguishes between true and false shepherds. The false ones are mere hired hands that don’t go out of their way to help the sheep. The good shepherd is the one dedicated to his sheep and their care.
The concept of the Messiah as the Good Shepherd appeared frequently in the Old Testament, notably in the prophet Ezekiel. All of Chapter 34 is dedicated to the Good Shepherd. Ezekiel warns of the peril of following false shepherds who lead their flocks astray. Seek the Good Shepherd who says, “The Lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal. . . . Thus shall they know that I the Lord, am their God, and they are my people.”
These words were as familiar to the Jews in the time of Jesus as they are to us. They, too, recognized the difference between a good shepherd and a hireling, who was more interested in his pay than the welfare of the flock
While we love the image of the Good Shepherd, most of us lack firsthand acquaintance with either a shepherd or with sheep.
So let’s look at a comparison, one that is much more familiar to us. While we’re not likely to be greeted by a flock of sheep when we open the door, many of us have been greeted by – a Dog!
Anyone who has ever shared a home with a dog as I do will see the parallel immediately. For in this case, you are the good shepherd, the one who cares totally for another.
Just as we are completely dependent on God for everything, so, too, your dog is totally dependent on you. A relationship is established that is truly unique. The bond is impossible to describe, but also impossible to deny.
Magnify that many times over and listen again to the opening words of today’s gospel: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” What greater blessing could there be than this: The shepherd knows my voice and I know his. There is instantaneous, constant communication as we seek to become one with this Good Shepherd. The closer, the more intimate that relationship, the better we will comprehend the words of our Shepherd: “No one can take them out of my hand.”
Jesus says he is not only the shepherd, but he is the sheepgate. The sheep go in and out of the pasture and are safe.
Jesus is the Gate to the spiritual world. Because he claims us as his own, we are safe.
Our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay has this to add about this passage. . . .
~ Jesus promised eternal life. If someone became a member of his flock, all the littleness of life would be gone and they would know the splendor and magnificence of the life with God.
~ He promised a life that would know no end. Death would not be the end but the beginning; they would know the glory of the indestructible life.
~ He promised a life that was secure. Nothing could snatch them from his hand. Not that it would save them from sorrow or suffering. Even in a world crashing to disaster they would know the serenity of God.
Jesus says it was the Father who gave the sheep to him. And thus Jesus received his confidence from the Father. He was secure, not in his own power, but in God’s. And the Gospel passage ends with the words, “The Father and I are one,” which calls to mind his intense prayer at the end of the Last Supper, according to John, “Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)
But let’s look at another side of this. The Good Shepherd seems to be doing all the giving, all the caring, all the protecting. The sheep just receive.
Look again, though, at the relationship between you and your faithful canine companion. If you have not experienced this personally, you have heard many true stories of the mutuality of affection. Your dog gives you, unconditional love, loyalty that cannot be broken, unequaled devotion. You are the center of your dog’s universe; everything revolves around you; you can do no wrong. Your dog’s will is perfectly conformed to yours. (except when he wants to go in a different direction than you want to.) That happens with my dog Shoney when there’s a female nearby!
Now isn’t that the relationship we strive for with our God? We have received everything from God; should we not give all in return? Our love, too, should be unconditional, our loyalty without compromise, our thoughts, words and deeds in accord with the will of God
And then ask yourself this question: Am I, in turn, a Good Shepherd?
If you have children or others under your care, ask yourself: Do I shepherd well those who are under my care? Do I shepherd by leading? Or by goading? How can I conform my leadership style to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Then, and only then, will we be able to say, “I know my Shepherd, and my Shepherd knows me.”
Christ is Risen!
Now, before you go, here’s a version of our beloved Psalm 23, “Shepherd Me, O God,” that has the flavor of Jesuit spirituality as well. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series – revised edition / the Gospel of John: Volume 2 / The Westminster Press Philadelphia – 1975
I’ll rely on our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay for a commentary on today’s Gospel. It’s the third Resurrection appearance in the Gospel of John and it’s a charming story. Jesus fixes breakfast beside the seashore for his disciples at dawn. Lovely, don’t you think?
The guys had been fishing all night and hadn’t caught anything. Heard this story before? This is a replay of their very first meeting. Jesus suggests they cast their nets to the starboard side. (They don’t recognize him quite yet.) When they do as he says, they haul in a great number of fish.
And John says, “The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
Then good ol’ impetuous Peter hastily throws on a tunic and jumps into the water dragging the net full of fish.
John, who uses symbolism all through his writing, notes that there were 153 large fish and the net was not broken. (We’ll discuss this a bit later.)
Then John writes, “Jesus said, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ And he took bread and gave it to them, and gave them fish in the same way.” And he adds, “ This was the third time Jesus showed himself to the disciples after he had been raised from the dead.
Barclay notes that the catch is not described as a miracle as it frequently happens on a lake. A person standing on the shore can often see a shoal of fish more clearly than those in the water. And it may have been because of the grey dark that they didn’t recognize him. But the eyes of the youngest disciple John were sharp.
Now to the meaning of the 153 fishes. In the Fourth Gospel, everything has meaning. Barclay gives lists of “many ingenious suggestions for this symbolism.” But I will choose only the one that makes the most sense as given by St. Jerome.
He said that in the sea there were 153 kinds of different fishes; and the catch is one which includes one of every kind of fish; and therefore the number suggests that some day all men of all nations will be gathered together in Jesus Christ.
We may note further that all these fish were gathered in this net and it wasn’t broken. The net stands for the Church; and there is room for all people of all nations in the Church.
Here John is telling us in his own vivid yet subtle wall of the universality of the Church. There is no kind of exclusivity in her, no kind of color bar or selectiveness. The Church is as universal as the love of God in Jesus Christ.
But there is more.
“ When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
First, we must note the question Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me more than these?” As far as the language goes, it could mean two things equally well.
It may be that Jesus swept his hand around the boat and its nets and equipment and the catch of fishes and said to Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than these?”
Are you prepared to give up a steady job and reasonable comfort in order to give yourself forever to my people and my work? This may have been a final decision to give all his life to the preaching of the gospel and the caring for Christ’s folk.
Or it may be that Jesus looked at the rest of the little group of the disciples and said to Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than your fellow disciples do? It may be that Jesus was looking back to the night when Peter said, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” It may be that he was reminding Peter how once he thought he alone could be true and how his courage had failed. It is more likely that the second meaning is right, because Peter does not make comparisons anymore; he is content to say, “You know that I love you.
Jesus asks the question three times—as Peter denied the Lord three times.
Jesus is gracious in his forgiveness. He gave Peter the chance to affirm his love and to wipe out the memory of the threefold denial by a threefold declaration of love.
Thus, we must note what love brought Peter.
~ It brought him a task. “If you love me,” Jesus said, ”then give your life to shepherding the sheep and lambs of my flock.”
We can prove that we love Jesus only by loving others. Love is the greatest privilege in the world, but it brings great responsibility.
~ It brought Peter the cross. Jesus said to him . . . .
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
The day came when, in Rome, when Peter did die for his Lord; he, too, was nailed to the Cross, and he asked to be nailed head downward, for he said he was not worthy to die as his Lord had died.
Love brought Peter a task, and it brought him the cross.
Love always involves responsibility, and it always involves sacrifice. We don’t really love Christ unless we are prepared to face the task he has prepared for us and the Cross he has given us. (Barclay/ Gospel of John / Vol. 2 pp. 284-6))
Lord Jesus, you know that I love You.
As your priest, I have tried to feed the people I’ve served as best I could.
Sometimes, I have failed, as Peter did.
You have given me crosses to carry throughout my life.
Sometimes, I was petulant and not carried them graciously.
I have tried to love, Lord.
Increase my capacity to love and to serve, even as I grow older.
This evening, Lord—as always, Lord Jesus,
I just want you to know that I love You.
Please be with those who do not know Your love.
And now, before you go, here’s the beloved Latin American song about the Jesus on the seashore ~ Pescadores de Hobres. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay /The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John / Volume 2 revised edition / The Westminster Press / Philadelphia / 1975
(Divine Mercy Sunday)
When Jesus appeared to the apostles after the resurrection, he would greet them with the words,“Peace be with you.”
They were distressed and fearful, huddled together in the Upper Room behind locked doors.
They were sad and distraught that the One they had come to love had been murdered. They were afraid that the religious leaders would crucify them as well.
They very much needed some peace. So the first thing Jesus says when he appears to them is “Peace be with you.”
Thus, peace is an Easter gift. It’s a gift that we can claim and pray for.
I’m not talking about peace between Israelis and Palestinians or Republicans and Democrats.
We usually think about coming to peace with others. But we have to seek peace within ourselves first.
The question is: How do we come to peace within ourselves? If our mind is racing, if we cannot sit still for a few minutes, then we’re not at peace. Something may be askew in our environment that is causing us to be unsettled and anxious. Something in our life may be causing us to not enjoy our own company.
But the real problem for many is that we may not like ourselves. We may choose to avoid our own company by watching TV, listening to music or going out to a bar or a club or drink or pop some pills to avoid being alone.
Yes, peace is a gift that every one of us needs. Peace within ourselves.
Being able to be calm and peaceful is a good indicator of our soul’s health. We should be at peace. And if we’re not, then we have our agenda laid out for us ~ to find out what is causing the lack of peace. Usually lack of peace is caused by something going on in us on the spiritual level. We learn to deal with our lack of peace by making deliberate efforts to be alone and to enjoy our own company.
Remember, that peace is a gift of the risen Lord. We can and ought to pray for that gift.
We can value it, beginning today on this second Sunday of Easter. And then we can be assured that it will come to us sooner or later.
I have known both peace and anxiety; I have known a terrible fear that would give me no peace, even though I desperately sought it.
1) In 1982, I was hospitalized and the medication I was on made me want to crawl out of my skin. I couldn’t settle my limbs for more than a couple of seconds. But then, finally, something happened inside my soul — a religious experience. I had in a dream — that calmed me as if a terrible storm had abated. From that moment on, I knew what peace is like.
In such an experience, the peace is soul-embracing. You feel free, you feel content and settled. You feel connected with your loved ones, your environment, with God, indeed with the whole universe.
And you feel worthwhile. You feel that your own connectedness helps form the connection with others, with the whole world.
2). Two of my friends had a horrible rift that I felt I was asked to try to reconcile . I chose to make a small effort at bringing the two together, but saw that it was impossible without heavy sessions between them. My peace had been unsettled by their lack of peace. So, we see that not practicing peacefulness has a ripple effect. More and more people get caught up in the unrest, the lack of peace.
And so it was with the Apostles locked in the Upper Room, too. Peter had not yet emerged as their leader, so they were floundering and confused. They were without hope.
That is why it is so important to be at peace.
3.) I now seek an abiding peace, a peace that stays with me. And I take steps to deepen and enrich my feeling of peacefulness.
I’ve been given the tools to enjoy my peace of mind and peace of soul. I can sit for a time at night in the dark, in silence, just simply “being.” In these hours, I realize that I am valuable, even though I am “doing nothing.” I just “be.”
Whenever I used to at preach at funerals, I often ask the question — Would you be content to feel the way you feel at this moment for all eternity? Would you be at peace if God called you to himself in the next moment?
I could sometimes answer my own question and answer: Yes, I would be content to feel as I feel at the present moment for all eternity.
4.) The Apostles were disturbed after the crucifixion. Their life with Jesus ~ their hopes and dreams for the future ~ seemed to be shattered. They were afraid that the leaders would come for them and crucify them as well.
These issues were so strong in them that they could not bring themselves to believe the message that the Women brought them that Jesus had been raised. They were not at peace.
. . . . Until Jesus appeared to them. They no longer had to rely on faith, which was lacking for all of them. They experienced the Risen One for themselves.
Then enter Thomas. He is not at peace. He says that “unless he puts his finger in the nail-marks and his hand into his side, he will not believe.”
Thomas is honest.
Thomas needed to be convinced. He refused to say that he understood what he did not understand or to say he believed what he did not believe. There was an uncompromising honesty about him, says our scripture scholar friend William Barclay.
But when he was sure, he went all the way, My Lord and My God,” he proclaimed!
And Jesus responded by saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Many more of us doubt significant things in our life. Specifically, we doubt our own self-worth.
We doubt matters of faith. We take our faith far more seriously by questioning and pursuing our questions than by relegating our faith to some closet in our mind. Some of us have had their faith shaken by a personal crisis or a scandal in the church.
Pursue your questions, though they may be painful. The questions can lead to a deeper faith. The turmoil, the risk of the Quest is better than stagnation.
Life for me today makes sense. I am at peace. I consider myself a Witness to the Resurrection. I know Jesus lives. He is not just a historical figure who lived in the past. He lives and reigns in the universe today. I know his love for me in the present moment.
I praise and thank God and his Son Jesus Christ our Lord for the gift of his peace.
One final thought: We cannot share peace if we do not have peace. If we want there to be peace in our homes, we have to have peace within ourselves. Then we can share it.
THE PEACE OF THE LORD BE WITH YOU!
And now before you go, a couple of things. First, today is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday.
Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. It is originally based on the Devotion to the Divine Mercy that Saint Faustina Kowalska reported as part of her encounter with Jesus, and is associated with special promises from Jesus and indulgences issued by the Church. The image above is the lovely image of Jesus associated with this devotion. During this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, this Sunday is like its Feast Day.
And now, here is a powerful song to pull all of this together: Click here.
And, finally here are the Mass readings for today. Click here.