The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, in verdant pastures he gives me repose….who among us could not be familiar with these words of the twenty-third psalm, which for generations has presented comfort and light for many a troubled soul? The liturgy this Sunday, the fourth of Easter, brings the image of the shepherd to mind. As we hear the words of the Lord in the Gospel: I am the good shepherd (Jn 10:11), we are brought face to face with an image which scriptural tradition of Israel has always used in order to express the love that the Lord has for his people. From of old, the people of Israel had been an agricultural people, devoted to the cultivation of land and of animals. In their life of faith, the God of Israel had revealed to them gradually the good news of his love; through simple images taken from the chores and realities of daily life, man came to know of God who watched over them more than a vine-grower did over his vineyard, and cared for them more than they themselves cared for their own livestock. Israel was not only the chosen portion of the Lord; he was their shepherd, who jealously watched and guided them faithfully, leading them to greener pastures. The shepherd became the figure that symbolized an authority based on solicitude and love for those whom the shepherd exercised his dominion. The kings and priests of Israel were considered as shepherds of the people, inasmuch as they received the mandate from the Lord, chief Shepherd of Israel, to watch and protect. These shepherds of Israel had their own shortcomings and infidelities; through his prophets God promised to raise a shepherd who would definitely take care of his sheep, Israel.
The prophecies come to their fulfillment in the figure of Christ. He is the Good Shepherd who takes good care of his sheep. Like in the Old Testament, the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd presents the love that God has for each and everyone of us. Christian art from the earliest centuries have been inspired by this image, as it presents the reality of God’s love for man.
But how is the love of a shepherd? I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his live for the sheep. This love is not a mere sentiment, but one whose proof of authenticity is the ultimate sacrifice of a life generously offered on the Cross. The First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm present to us another image found in the Scriptures, that of the stone rejected by the builders. It points to the passion of the Christ, who was rejected and subjected to suffering and death, so as to be able to be the source of life for us all, and so as to be the cornerstone of a new building: the Church.
At one point we might see no relation between the two images, but our reflection would lead us to consider that Christ is the Good Shepherd whose love made him offer his life for his sheep, an offering which consisted in the passion, death and resurrection. The love of that the Lord Jesus had for us did not make him only give up his life for us by stretching his arms on the wood of the Cross-, suspended between heaven and earth. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. In order that we may have life, the Lord offered his on the Cross, in order to rise up again from the dead, giving us the opportunity to live with Him. He is the Good Shepherd because he laid down his life for us, and he claims it back again, so that we might truly live a life that knows no end. This life promised to us is the very life of the Son of God, not that of a servant nor a slave, but that of a child of God, and it is in this that we could see the extent to which the love of God has favored us, as we see in the Second Reading: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God. Yet so we are! (1 Jn 3:1)
I am the Good Shepherd. This is something which ought to stimulate us in our Christian life. Because, inserted in Christ through baptism, we are ourselves are called to be shepherds. St. Thomas Aquinas comments that this is not possible however, if we do not identify ourselves with the very love of Christ, if we do not live it. In this Good Shepherd Sunday, we are called to remember in a very special way the pastors of the Church, that they may be truly shepherds after the heart of God, and that the Lord of the harvest may continue to raise us men who would shepherd the Church with the love of Christ.
But this Sunday is not only about our priests and bishops. It also ought to remind us that we too have some shepherding to do. Each one of us is entrusted with the care of persons in one way or the other. And shepherding is nothing else but nurturing: helping people grow. We cannot make this happen without generosity and sacrifice on our part. In the same that Christ the Good Shepherd laid down his life for us, we too have to lay down our lives for others. Touched by the light and grace of the Risen Christ, parents may learn to give themselves more generously for their children, ensuring that what these receive are things which are truly for their good; lay leaders in the Church are empowered to live fully their vocation to be the yeast that makes society rise; civil authorities become prudent and unselfish in their commitment to seek the true good of their constituents, and so on and so forth.
Lord Jesus, Good Shepherd of us all, may your love for each of us bear fruit in the Church and beyond its borders, so that we may be shepherds for a world that has so much need of the warmth of your love. AMEN, ALLELLUIA!
FIRST READING: Acts 4:8-12
SECOND READING: 1 Jn 3:1-2
GOSPEL: Jn 10:11-18