Dear Brothers & Sisters,
The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as the “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Every year we always hear a passage from chapter 10 from the Gospel of John. In order to understand better the importance of the shepherd in the Bible, we need to go back in history. Looking at the contemporary Bedouins, we get a glimpse from what it looked like in the life of the tribes of Israel. In that society, the relationship between the shepherd and his flock was not merely functional based solely on the financial value of the sheep. There was a relationship that was formed that one could almost call it a personal relationship. The shepherd and the sheep usually spent many days together in remote areas, where there was no one else around. The shepherd ended up knowing everything about each of his sheep. This relationship was so close, that the shepherd would talk often to his sheep, warning them, calling them back, caring for them among many other things. Due to this constant “dialogue,” the sheep came to recognize the voice of their shepherd and listened to him.
This helps us to understand why God would have chosen the image of a shepherd to express his relationship with mankind. In one of the most beautiful and well-known psalms, the psalmist describes the sense of confidence that a person has in God as his shepherd when he says, “The Lord is my shepherd, and there is nothing that I want.” Later in history we see that the title of “shepherd” was given to those who represented God on earth, namely, the kings, the priests, in sum, the leaders of the people of Israel. That title was only a temporary one, until God were to send the legitimate shepherd, the Good Shepherd. He was no longer a representation of God on earth, he was God himself! Jesus says, “I’m the Good Shepherd.” (Jn 10:11). And this new Shepherd fulfills every prophecy and promise from God, and he lays his life for his sheep. Never a shepherd had given his own life for the sheep, as good as he was. In the words of consecration that the priests say at every mass, Jesus gave his body that was given up for us!
In our times, there are many shepherds, who call us each day to follow them. Many of them promise happiness, joy, success, pleasures, among other things. We call it the allurements of the world. These are the things from the world that tell us that we should follow them. However, they all have empty promises. This Sunday we are called to reflect on which shepherd are we following? Whose voice do we listen to? Whose commands do we obey? This week as I was learning more about the life of St. Bernadette, I was very touched by the promise of Our Lady to her, “I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other.” We know that what Christ promises us is a done deal. This icon of the Good Shepherd that is on the front page of the bulletin shows us the Crucified and Risen Christ, who already has given his life for his sheep. He lays his life for the sheep on the Cross, and by his resurrection, he rescues the sheep from death. It is another way of showing Christ descending to hell in search of the lost sheep, and once he finds it, he places it over his shoulders, and brings it back rejoicing.
In this time of Easter, we continue to contemplate the love that God has for each one of us. In a similar way in which spouses say that they love each other, or parents that say that they love their children every day, God, like a shepherd, speaks constantly to us. He spends time in our presence, he reminds us constantly of his love. As Psalm 95 says, “if today you listen to his voice, harden not you hearts”, we are also invited first to listen to Christ, then to follow his voice. Only then we will be brought to green pastures, restful waters, have our souls restored and be guided by the right path (Ps. 23).
Father Steven Clemence