Tag Archives: Good Shepherd

Fourth Sunday of Easter: the Good Shepherd

audio homily here: 
I met the Italian film director Mimmo Mancini some years ago who was getting ready to film “Ameluk” a film about a Holy Week procession in an Italian town. It was released in Italy last year. As I remember the story the handsome Jesus selected to take part in the procession had an accident and was replaced by a Muslim from Palestine who, for reasons you might guess, didn’t fit the bill with the locals and a lot others. Part of it was he wasn’t handsome enough. We’re so sure that looks, appearances, image are everything.

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says in today’s gospel. Now I don’t know too much about shepherds, what they look like, but from what I know I don’t believe they’re a particularly handsome group. They spend most of their time outside in the cold or heat; weather-beaten, scruffy looking, with few opportunities for grooming themselves, not much to look at. Tough job being a shepherd. Yet, it’s hard for us to imagine that Jesus didn’t look like a Hollywood movie star.

But the good shepherd cares for his sheep. That’s what Jesus does; he cares for his sheep. He cares for his sheep no matter what the weather, cold or hot. He makes the journey with them, no matter how hard it is. He doesn’t abandon his sheep, no matter what. He searches for those who are lost and he looks for others to enter his flock.

That’s the way Jesus, the Risen Jesus, describes himself in John’s gospel today:

“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

He’s not doing it for pay, he’s not someone hired, putting in his time, caring little for his sheep, ready to run away when the wolf comes and the sheep are scattered.

“I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,”

He knows his sheep, Jesus says, not in an impersonal way. He speaks and they hear his voice. ‘Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,” he says, and “I will lay down my life from them.”

A Shepherd for Dangerous Times

good shepherd
The image of the shepherd is a favorite image for God in scripture. It is an important image to understand the Risen Jesus. He is a shepherd on the journey through life and death, a shepherd who does not walk alone. He leads his sheep through “the valley of death.” He brings them to  green pastures, to rest “all the days of our life.”

God’s shepherding takes many forms. God is the Shepherd of Israel, we hear in the Old Testament. The Lord is my shepherd, Psalm 23 says; God shepherds us on the personal journey we make in life; God is with us at every moment, good or bad. God  also shepherds his church, the new Israel, and he will always guide it, even in periods of uncertainty.

But does it end there? What about our world, which is also on a journey? If we believe Jesus Christ is its Savior and Lord, will he not be its shepherd too?

Easter time is a good time to think about the unknown in all its dimension. As we look ahead, our world faces many dangers. It’s clear our environment is endangered. What shall we do? As the nations of the earth are drawn closer through new systems of communications and economic development, violence and terror are so evident. Can we live in peace?

We’re tempted to close our eyes and lose hope. But God always tells us to face life and go on. Alone, we may see a dark valley ahead, but a Shepherd leads us, so let’s not fear.

4th Sunday of Easter: The Lord is my Shepherd

 

To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:

I wanted to find out on the internet recently how many people are watching the new series on Sunday night on NBC entitled AD: The Gospel Continues. Looks like a lot of people are watching it. But another story caught my eye in the Hollywood Reporter, where that information is found. It was an article entitled “Jesus in Film and TV: 13 Devilishly Handsome Actors Who’ve Played the Son of God.”

The article showed the pictures of all the devilishly handsome actors who played Jesus in the movies or on television in recent years. To tell the truth, none of them looked like Jesus to me. In his Letter to the Philippians St. Paul says that Jesus took on the form of a slave. That seems to mean that if we met him on the street, we wouldn’t recognize him. He would look like one of the crowd. Jesus may not have been particularly handsome, but of course Hollywood finds that hard to believe. We’re so sure that looks, appearances, image are everything.

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says in today’s gospel. Now, I don’t know too much about shepherds or what they look like, but from the little I know I don’t believe they’re a particularly handsome group. They’re men who spend most of their time outside in the cold or the heat; weather-beaten, scruffy looking, with few opportunities for grooming themselves, not much to look at. It’s a tough job, being a shepherd.

But the good shepherd cares for his sheep. That’s what Jesus does; he cares for his sheep. He cares for his sheep no matter what the weather, cold or hot. He makes the journey with them, no matter how hard it is. He doesn’t abandon his sheep, no matter what. He searches for the ones who are lost and he looks for others to enter his flock.

That’s the way Jesus, the Risen Jesus, describes himself in John’s gospel today:

“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

He’s not doing it for pay, he’s not someone hired, putting in his time, caring little for his sheep, ready to run away when the wolf comes and the sheep are scattered.

“I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,”

He knows his sheep, Jesus says, not in an impersonal way. He speaks and they hear his voice. ‘Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,” he says, and “I will lay down my life from them.”

Some years ago I was on a plane from St. Louis to Kennedy Airport in New York City. I opened my prayer book to say a prayer before takeoff and just then an African-American woman sat down next to me; at first, I thought she was a young teenager. “Sir,” she said, “Could I read a psalm?”

“Sure,” I said, “Let’s read the 22th Psalm together, which is the Good Shepherd psalm. So together we said that beautiful psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….”

“That’s my favorite prayer,” she said, and she told me she was going overseas to Germany to rejoin her husband in the army there. They had lost a child in childbirth some months before and she had gone home to see her mother after the loss.

When we got up in the air above the clouds, she told me that after her baby’s death she had a dream. She saw Jesus, the Good Shepherd, walking in clouds like this and he was carrying her little baby. “ I love that psalm and I say it all the time, “ she said.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me, he restores my soul.

He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,

for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.

You set a table before me in front of my enemies;You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for endless days.

The Lost Sheep

Jordan Valley

A few years ago a woman sent me some pictures from her pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The one above is a picture of some sheep in the Jordan Valley. In the background are mountains that trail off into the dark distance. In his day, Jesus would have passed this way from Galilee to Jerusalem. Probably sheep were grazing in the green pastureland then as they do now.

I think of this picture whenever I hear his parable of the lost sheep, which we heard in Luke’s gospel today at Mass.

Can you imagine searching for one sheep in those mountains? Just looking at them might cause us to say, “Well, that one’s gone,” and give up. But the Good Shepherd doesn’t say that or give up. He searches the mountains till he finds what was lost, then he puts it on his shoulders and rejoices with his friends and neighbors.

“Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.”

The lost sheep is not only each one of us; it’s also a lost world.

The Good Shepherd

“I am the Good Shepherd.” This is one of the names Jesus often used to describe himself and his mission. The Old Testament before him used this same image to describe God. So, Psalm 21 begins “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

During the Easter season the church favors portraying Jesus in symbolic ways: “I am the vine,”  “I am the Bread of Life,” and the description of him in our gospel: “I am the Good Shepherd.” That is because we know the Risen Christ now, not by seeing him, but in signs and symbols.

The Good Shepherd is a many-faceted image. On one hand, Jesus says he is the shepherd who goes in search of his lost sheep, and when he finds it he cradles it tenderly in his arms and brings it back to the flock. However far we stray, he will search for us and lead us back to the safety and comfort of his presence.

But the shepherd also leads his sheep and guides them through “a dark valley” into experiences and ways they cannot know. So, during the Easter season we read the story of the journey of the early church. Now, as then, Jesus is the shepherd leading his church into paths unknown, until finally she comes into “green pastures.”

He will lead each of us on our journey. Like sheep we feed intently on the small plot of life our eyes fall on. But the Good Shepherd is never far from us. No, we do not see him; but he is always near. We can trust him, “the shepherd and guardian of our souls.”

 

The Good Shepherd

Sunday Reading: Fourth Sunday of Easter (C)
Acts 13, 14, 43-52
Revelation 7, 9,14-17
John 10-27-30

“The Father and I are one,” Jesus says in John’s gospel. The role given to God in the Old Testament –the Good Shepherd– is also his role. He guides humanity and the world to their destiny. He’s not the shepherd of one nation or small group. He’s not the leader of a small cult, a teacher among teachers. He is the Good Shepherd of all, who calls all to his flock and whose message is for all.

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes a split in the church. As Paul and Barnabas preach in Antioch in Pisidia, Jewish Christians oppose the number of gentiles welcoming the gospel, and so limit the nature of the church. “We now turn to the gentiles,” Paul says. By this decision, the message of Jesus will be brought to the ends of the earth and the church takes on a more universal configuration. What configuration is our church taking today?

In the Book of Revelations John sees a “crowd that no one can number” standing before God’s throne, which is also the throne of the Lamb. “The Lamb will shepherd them” and “he will lead them to springs of life-giving waters, and God will wash away every tear from their eyes.” In Revelations, the Risen Christ reminds us to keep an eye, not only on the present, but on “what is to come.”