The Fourth Sunday of Easter [C]
Acts 13:14,43-52 + Revelation 7:9,14-17 + John 10:27-30
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He left the paradise of Heaven to seek out and save us who are lost sheep, who have mired ourselves in our sins. The entire Season of Easter is about celebrating Christ’s victory over sin and death. But on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, we reflect on the meaning of this truth for daily life.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. This name stems from today’s Gospel passage, taken from the tenth chapter of John. We Christians, although justified through the Sacrament of Baptism, continue throughout our lives to stray from God. We need the Good Shepherd each day.
For the sake of our need, the Good Shepherd reveals Himself not only through the Gospel Reading. He also proclaims who He is in the Responsorial: “Know that the Lord is God; / He made us, His we are; / His people, the flock He tends.”
Ponder the words of this psalm. After all, we don’t usually think of a shepherd as having “made” “the flock He tends.” A shepherd might be involved in bringing together the ram and ewe that actually “make” sheep, but how could you say that a shepherd “makes” his flock? But that’s what the Bible says in today’s Responsorial Psalm.
The unusual fact that this Shepherd “made us” reveals our destiny, which is a loftier destiny than most sheep. For your average sheep, its destiny is to provide wool, mutton, and milk. The sheep is a means towards protection from the elements and nourishment.
But it’s foolish to think of us as sheep along these lines, because God needs neither protection nor nourishment. So that begs the question: why are the images of the Shepherd and His flock fitting to describe God and us? What are we for? For what end did this Shepherd make us? In the venerable King James translation of Psalm 23, we hear:
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Here is why this Good Shepherd made us. “For His Name’s sake” He made us: for His sake, not for our own sake. He made us for His life in Heaven, not for earth. Unfortunately, too often, you and I not only live in this world. We live for this world, and for ourselves as well. The imagery of the 23rd Psalm evokes the reality of God’s life in Heaven: “green pastures”, “still waters”, a table prepared by the Lord, and a cup that “runneth over”.
There’s a stark contrast here. On the one hand are the natural differences between God and us fallen sinners. On the other hand are the tender intimacy that the Shepherd has for, and wants for, His flock. This is a closeness that we don’t deserve, but which the Shepherd desires for us. The Good Shepherd will go to great extremes for His flock. He will give up His life for His sheep. In the same chapter that today’s Gospel passage comes from, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd… just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep” [John 10:14-15]. But Jesus will do even more.
In today’s Second Reading from the Book of Revelation, we hear St. John the Evangelist describe a vision that he had. He points out that “‘the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water’”. In fact, three times in today’s Second Reading—and forty times in the entire Book of Revelation—the word “lamb” is used by St. John. But in this sentence from today’s Second Reading, he uses this word in an unusual way. This “lamb” is also a “shepherd”: “‘the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water’”.
This “lamb”, of course, is the Risen Jesus. This lamb is our Good Shepherd, the God who chose not only to become man, but also to offer His Body and Blood along with His soul and divinity on the Cross for you. This crucified and risen God-man is a sheep like you, but also your divine shepherd.