4th SUNDAY OF EASTER Good Shepherd Sunday
This weekend we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Easter which is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a lovely thought because it is a well known fact that the shepherd never leaves his sheep outside the sheepfold. If any are outside the sheepfold the shepherd will seek the lost sheep at all costs until they are found. The wandering figure of the shepherd, anxiously tending his sheep to the point where he is willing to surrender his life for them, is the image Jesus uses about himself in this Gospel Reading. That mixture of tenderness and toughness, care and self-sacrifice, is one that summarises his own practice of leadership. It is not a leadership of detachment and defensiveness; rather, it is a leadership of physical involvement and self-sacrificial love. In the good shepherd’s foolish extravagant love, his own life matters less than that of his sheep as we know Jesus gave up his life for us on the cross Good Friday.
The good shepherd is not an image of religious authority that is involved with its own importance, blind to the useless pain it causes in those it leads. The authority of the shepherd costs the shepherd, not the sheep. The image of the shepherd cannot be separated from how the shepherd actually cares for his own sheep. When we see how Jesus actually behaves as a leader, we see his tenderness and courage. The parable of the Good Shepherd has many consoling truths and promises for people of every century, including ourselves in the twenty first. The good shepherd challenges our own way of leaving people for lost: remember that Jesus also said “I have come to seek out and save the lost.” All of us know people who have wandered away from the Church, who have lost their sense of belonging, who feel they have no community to belong to. How will they know they are welcome back if no one tells them? How will they be helped back if no one offers to make the journey with them?
This as we know is the Year of Mercy a year of return a year of journeying with those who want to return to God as well as those who believe. Turning our gaze to God the merciful Father, and to our brothers and sisters in need of mercy, means focusing our attention on the essential contents of the Gospel: As we celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy we are asked to place Jesus Christ, the face of the all merciful Father, at the centre of our personal life and that of our communities. As people of mercy we are asked to journey with those who are trying to return to the sheepfold as well as journeying along with our friends who are still there.