4th Sunday of Easter: the Good Shepherd

For this week’s homily please watch the video below.

The Good Shepherd 

During the Easter season the church remembers Jesus in symbolic ways, ways he speaks of himself in the gospel: “I am the vine,”  “I am the Bread of Life,” and the description of himself he gives in our gospel today: “ I am the Good Shepherd.” 

Jesus spoke of himself in these ways because they’re the ways we know the Risen Christ now, not by seeing him, but in signs and symbols. His own disciples had to learn to know him in these ways after his resurrection. We must learn them too.

You can see Jesus weaning them away from knowing him physically in the way he appears to them. How occasional and fleeting they are. None of them are long.  All of them verify he is risen body and spirit. He’s alive. But besides proving he’s alive, Jesus in his easter appearances weans his followers away from seeing him bodily.  “Do not cling to me,” he says to Mary Magdalene. “Stay with us, Lord,” the disciples say to him at Emmaus” but after breaking bread with them, he disappears from their sight.

Now, they’re going to see him in another way –through signs, like bread and wine, water, in gatherings where together they remember him, in the scriptures which speak of him, in the poor and suffering who are wounded like him, in the signs of the times that unfold before them.

That’s the way Jesus will remain with them, through signs, and that’s the way Jesus remains with us. 

The Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep is a good description of Jesus with us today., He is the shepherd, we are his sheep. Most of us are not experts in shepherds and sheep but we do know enough about them to recognize ourselves in them and Jesus in the shepherd.

Sheep, at least those domestically raised, need to be cared for. They don’t seem to know the best places to graze. They need to be directed to good grazing land. Sheep seem to be animals that have their eyes fixed on the small plot of life before their eyes.

I’m sure most of you have seen pictures of those wonderful shepherd dogs that are raised to watch the sheep, to corral them, to keep them together.

 Speaking for himself, Jesus says he is a shepherd who cares for his sheep. Not only does he care for them but if one is lost he goes in search of it. When he finds it he cradles it tenderly in his arms and brings it back to the flock, and rejoices. However far the sheep strays, he will go in search of it. However far we stray, he will search for us and lead us back to be safely in his presence.

Jesus was himself fulfilling that beautiful prayer we sang as our responsery song today.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 

In verdant pastures he gives me repose;

beside restful waters he leads me;

he refreshes my soul. 

He guides me in right paths

for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk in the dark valley 

I fear no evil; for you are at my side. 

With your rod and your staff

that give me courage

You spread the table before me

in the sight of my foes;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows. 

Only goodness and kindness follow me

all the days of my life;

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD

for years to come.

That’s what Jesus does. He is our shepherd. He leads his sheep and guides us through “a dark valley” into experiences and ways we  weren’t expecting. Robbers and thieves threaten our way. But we hear the voice of the shepherd, calling us each by name. We can hear his voice. 

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