This Sunday we celebrate the 4th Sunday of Easter also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. In our diocese we are concluding a nine day novena of prayer for Vocations to the priesthood and religious life. There are so many different forms of vocation but this weekend we think about the vocation to priesthood religious and diocesan. I would like to take this opportunity to ask anyone who reads this to pray for and encourage priestly vocations as we are nothing without our priests and we pray that God will send us Good Shepherds. 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 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 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 and left us an everlasting memorial in the Eucharist. 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 the way that the shepherd actually cares for his own sheep. When we see how Jesus actually behaves as a leader, we see his tenderness in caring for the people and his courage which led him to the cross. 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 us not to leave the lost sheep behind: Jesus 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? It is up to us to help everyone to feel that they are welcome though sometimes that can be hard. The Gospel of the Good shepherd is a call to us to help those out there who have lost their way to come back to the loving shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep and rejoices when they are found. It is also a particular call for us to pray that the lord of the harvest will send labourers into the harvest so that the world will believe.