The Shepherd Who Was Slain for His Sheep Is Truly Risen
The gospels for the Fourth Sunday of Easter tell us of the Good Shepherd, and are divided into three parts, giving us a different reading for each year of the lectionary. Today, Monday, we find ourselves at the beginning of chapter 10, being introduced to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. It is a warm welcome to intimacy with Jesus and the Father. What will follow in the larger gospel of John is the raising of Lazarus, the anointing of Jesus by Mary of Bethany, and the entry into Jerusalem. We are close to the Passion where the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
This Good Shepherd is described as out in front, leading us. We know it is not to a place. The shepherd leads us in a different sense. If we took the symbol of the Good Shepherd as leading us literally, Jesus would probably not be in front! Sheep follow all over the place, so to speak. They run ahead and wander around the edges, some even go a bit too far – the lost sheep. A Good Shepherd lets the sheep wander a bit because they know what they are looking for, something tasty to munch on or a bit of water. They may be better at finding those things than shepherd himself or herself.
No, our reading introduces us to the one who leads us into a relationship of intimacy. This Shepherd calls his sheep by name; how familiar! He knows them and they know him; they recognize his voice. Our Shepherd is like a gate; we are secure when he is not with us, and the gate opens onto good pasture.
John situates the gospel during the feast of the Dedication as Israel celebrates their deliverance and the rededication of the temple desecrated by Antiochus IV, the story of the Book of Maccabees. Much suffering was inflicted upon the Jewish people. Despite stories of faithfulness and martyrdom, some abandoned their trust and faith in the God of Israel. Remembering those who turned their back upon God who dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the temple, Jesus refers to those who are leading the sheep of the house of David away from the One who is the Way to the Father. Jesus comes to bring the fullness of life to his sheep. There are those who would rob the Sheep of the gift of the Father.
Beautiful as today’s reading is we want more. Can we ever get enough intimacy with those whom we love? John’s gospel continues beyond our reading: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father”. When John began his gospel he told us that Jesus was at the Father’s side. Again, not a physical location but so much more. It is intimate love, like a mother holding her nursing baby. We hear the same of the beloved disciple at the last supper. This disciple at Jesus side shares an intimate relationship with Jesus. We are that disciple. As he is one with Jesus, the disciple is also one with the Father, because Jesus is the way to the Father. The intimacy that Jesus knows with the Father is what he gives us. To know Jesus is to know the Father, to be one with Jesus is to be one with the Father through Jesus. The sheep gate opens onto a rich pasture for us, indeed!
“I am the Good Shepherd that lays down his life for his sheep…The Father loves me for this: that I lay down my life to take it up again….My sheep hear my voice….I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish…The Father and I are one”. How do we capture such intimacy?
We all know the holy cards that show a Good Shepherd gently carrying a lamb. As being led to a specified location is not at issue, rather intimacy, so being a lamb is not important really. We are the ones embraced by the Risen One, the Lamb who was slain. He calls us be name, responding to each of us uniquely, as the Risen One does to the people to whom he appears during these Easter days.
To the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, be praise, honor and glory and might, forever and ever! Alleluia!
Fr. William Murphy, CP is a member of Immaculate Conception Community in Jamaica, New York.