On this fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday, we continue to rejoice in the presence of the risen Christ. In the gospel today, Our Lord deliberately describes himself as the Good Shepherd, explicitly saying that he is ready to do everything for the sheep. If you were to read this with a sort of brutal simplicity you might find yourself saying that this is an exaggeration. How could a Shepherd give up everything for animals that are often made fun of for their stupidity and uselessness? Perhaps there is a truth that we need to search for. Christ may well be saying that we are so far removed from him because of our rebellion, uselessness, disobedience, disorder and stupidity but, despite all, he is prepared to do everything for us and indeed to give his life for us so that we may become fully alive.
Ponder upon the truth that, despite all, we are so precious in the eyes of God that there is no price that he will not pay so that we may find union with him. The ultimate price of course, is the cross, so much does he want us to be with and in him.
Compare that with the opposite that is put before us today, namely the hired man. Such a person is a sort of management person, no imagination, loyalty and love and indeed probably full of emotions which are not pure. Worst of all, he is full of cowardice and runs away as soon as a wolf comes. The consequence of this could be a little bit like a fox when it gets into a hencoop and the result is terrible and cruel. Such is life without Christ, for if the selfless love of Christ is taken away from our world, there is chaos.
Leaving the agricultural metaphors, we need to ask what this teaching means for our life of faith and how we can deepen our love for the risen Christ. We can do no better than to ask the simple question of what Christ is telling us of himself and his very nature and what the consequences are when we ignore him and listen to the hired man. We can do no better than to look, observe and adore the Blessed Sacrament. We need to ask for the grace to know that there, before us in the tabernacle, is the Good Shepherd and that this is not just a figure of speech or a picture described of what happened in Palestine 2000 years ago but something which is happening in every moment - namely that God is pouring himself out in infinite love for you and me. In so much as we can speak of the very nature of God, we can express it as selfless and giving love. It is a love in which we are called to give ourselves in return to him completely and to each other and that is how we come to be alive.
The hired Man that we hear about in the gospel today is the one who is consumed by selfishness, ego and pride, who deserts and runs away when confronted with the test of faith. The consequence is division and the breakup of the church and the Christian community. Every Shepherd is called to show forth the face of Christ and on this Good Shepherd Sunday we pray that our Shepherds will do that and others may choose to follow in their footsteps. The breakup and fractures of the church, violence in our world and inequality amongst people are proof of what happens when we lose sight of Christ.
Saint Peter, in the first reading today, speaks of the acts of kindness that caused the cripple to be healed, “he is now able to stand healthy in your presence”. The meeting of those who are broken with the love of Christ is something that is healing, restorative and helps them to discover the meaning of their humanity. It is often forgotten how much the Catholic Church around the world does in reaching out to those who are poor, suffering, broken and frail. Think of those many hundreds of thousands with AIDS, the elderly and the infirm, the work of education and the terrible burden of poverty. The church, in her simple desire to be like Christ, is showing forth the love of the Good Shepherd. When we adore and receive the love of the Good Shepherd, then we are more able to show that love to the world.
Today we are invited to pray for Priests. One of my most abiding memories as a priest was when Pope Benedict XVI gathered us all in Hyde Park for Eucharistic adoration. At the same time in Oxford Street, Soho and the West End, there was the normal chaos and pursuit of materialistic happiness, but on the grass at the park, we were on our knees adoring the Good Shepherd. It was a profound moment of receiving and giving love in total silence and unity of mind and purpose. The work of the Good Shepherd was truly present and real. In today’s second reading from Saint John, he says “we shall be like him”. It is into the chaos, disunity and greed of our world that we have to show forth the love of Christ. The way to unity, which is the love of a Good Shepherd, is the love of the Eucharist.
Christ tells us today in the gospel that his own know him and in knowing him, that they will listen to his voice. The Shepherd knows his sheep when he receives and gives the love of God and on this Sunday we pray for our shepherds and that others will want to walk in their footprints. Christ has given us shepherds so that we can listen to his voice and all of us have a part to play in the praying for and formation of such people. No time can be lost, no effort wasted and no prayer of adoration worthless that is us giving ourselves in love to Christ as he gives himself in love for us. Let us pray on this Sunday, that the Good Shepherd may feed and strengthen us in our journey to heaven so that we can show forth, with our shepherds, God’s kingdom in our world.