We are continuing the season of Easter – commemorating the 40 days when Jesus walked as the Risen Lord with His disciples - they saw the Lord raised from the dead. He appeared to them, they journeyed with Him and were taught by Him.
Today there is clearly a central theme - that of the Lord as shepherd clearly running through the readings but also in the prayers of the Mass.
The prayers of the Mass:
Jesus is the shepherd the Father has sent
God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Though your people walk in the valley of darkness no evil would they fear:
For they follow in faith the call of the shepherd
Whom you have sent for their hope and strength.
Attune our minds to the sound of His voice,
Lead our steps in the path that he has shown...
Here it is the Father Himself who is the shepherd:
Father, eternal shepherd, watch over the flock redeemed by Christ and lead us to the Promised Land
Not surprisingly, the psalm ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ reinforces in our minds the ‘duty of care’ that God has for us.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10: 1-10) – who cares for us. We matter to Him, one by one He leads us – everyone is known to Him, is important and each of us is uniquely loved by God. Everyone is special.
There are two ways in which Jesus shepherds His flock:
(1) Jesus teaches us that no one can have life except through him. He states FOUR TIMES that He is the gate through which we must enter, and we are guaranteed safety if we listen to His voice above all the other voices that are clamouring for our attention in today’s world full of noise. We listen to His voice in the Liturgy of the Word. ‘We had all gone astray like sheep.’ St Peter reminds us that Christ leads us back to the sheepfold; in the Second Reading, he states us that the Lord has called us to himself (Acts, First Reading).
It is noteworthy that the symbol used on the cover of the Catholic Catechism is that of the shepherd – with his crook of guidance and authority, the pan-pipes symbolising the inner harmony of the Church’s teaching, and the docility of the sheep listening attentively to the Good Shepherd and the shepherds of the Church through the ages.
(2) In the Middle East it was often the case that the shepherd lay himself down at the entrance to the sheepfold to bar the way of intruders and thieves. His own body was a barrier, shield and protection.
Jesus was prepared to go one step further - not just to lay down his body in this way but to ‘lay it down and take it up again’ for the life of his sheep in His crucifixion and death and resurrection. And it is in and through His Body and Blood that we receive salvation and enter the pasture of everlasting life: ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you cannot have life in you’. Thus Jesus is also the shepherd who nourishes not only in His word, but also in His Body and Blood.
Let us pray to Christ the Good Shepherd that the Church will be graced with shepherds after His own heart who will seek out the strays and the lost and bring them safely home to pasture, nourished by the truths of our faith, His teaching and by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.