Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Blog # 475 The Good Shepherd

Blog # 475   The Good Shepherd

           In each season of the Church's Liturgical Year the theme of Jesus identified as the Good Shepherd is celebrated. In the  Easter Season it is the  fourth Sunday of Easter and the readings this week other than on feasts will remind us of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

         The initiative in identifying Jesus as the Good Shepherd was taken by Jesus Himself.  (Jn. 10: 11-16).  In early Christian art and as Biblical references in the catacombs, carved in stone, the Good Shepherd was most commonly used.

           Living as we do so far removed from a regular experience of sheep and shepherding, we might ask what lesson or value can be ours in celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday, 2015.  Chances are none of us is, has been, or will be a shepherd.  Very likely most of us have not even known any shepherds personally.  Is the theme like a delicate precious antique we have in our possession, to be handed down from one generation of Christian believers to the next?  I hope not.

           In identifying Himself as the Good Shepherd Jesus compared and contrasted  that image with what He referred to as a hired shepherd.  The Good Shepherd has a high regard for the sheep, is dedicated to their welfare, and is willing to risk his life for their sake. The hireling works for the pay
he receives rather than for the good of the sheep. When danger comes the hireling flees from the scene and leaves the sheep to be scattered and killed.

              In reflecting upon the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd various thoughts begin to focus for us. The Good Shepherd is dependable, generous, self-giving, and worthy of trust.  In identifying
Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus is inviting us to see in Him these same qualities, not by way of bragging about Himself on the part of  Jesus, but by way of  relating  closely  through them to Him as a personal friend, one of us, unafraid, with ourselves in place of the sheep He cared for so well.

              This insight makes a difference in my prayers to Him.  I never want to lose an awareness of
the awesomeness with which my prayer to the Father should be identified in response to the infinite, beyond-my-imagination, power and perfection of the Father, which may have tempted me to fear rather than to love God. unless Jesus, as the Eternal Word, equal to the Father, and as our friend the Good Shepherd, equal to us, revealed Him as Our Father.

                When and how can we remind ourselves of this invitation, respond to it more frequently, and appreciate its implications more frequently and effectively?   The early Christians did this through prayer to Jesus the Good Shepherd, through drawings and paintings of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in their homes, cemeteries, and places of worship. On one wall of my room I have a large I image of  the  Crucifixion.  Just below it I have an image of Jesus  the Good Shepherd.   This was the man who was crucified.  The combination of the two has been a special grace to remind me of the great love of  Jesus for us all, human and divine. 

                Also, though I would not be able to say how many folks who offer Mass regularly think of this, each time we offer Mass we offer the loving obedient death of our Shepherd. I also have a  small photo of  the Good Shepherd attached to the front of my file cabinet.  This gives me many opportunities to be reminded of  my Shepherd-friend.

                    Here are some questions that might be helpful.  Identified as we are with Jesus through faith and Baptism, do we see ourselves as good shepherds, to ourselves and others?  What type of persons must we be to live out the truth, that we are sent by Jesus as He was sent by the Father to be good shepherds?  What attitudes and habits of thought and action should we be cultivating in order  for the love of the Good Shepherd  to be alive in us?

                      What questions! Questions such as these tend to act as fertilizer in the garden of our lives.  They clarify the path to holiness and call us closer to the Lord and to one another.  They are valuable gifts.

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