April 30, 2023
Sister Rose Ann Barmann, OSB shares a reflection on the scripture readings: Acts 2-14, 36-41; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10.
This Fourth Sunday of Easter is called Good Shepherd Sunday. In each of the three lectionary cycles, the Gospel for this weekend is taken from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, the Gospel of the Good Shepherd. We are invited to meditate on the image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd who cares for each of us, as a shepherd cares for her sheep. This image reminds us that we are called to follow Jesus and to trust in His guidance, care, and protection.
Many of you know that I was raised on a farm in Northwest Missouri. We had a medium sized farm. As we were growing up, we had a dairy farm and then at some point my dad and uncle sold the dairy herd and transitioned into beef farming and pork producers as well as planting and growing the crops that would be used to feed our livestock. Today we would be known as self-sustaining farmers.
Sometime during my early childhood, my dad and uncle experimented in raising sheep. I suppose I was in the 4th or 5th grade when my dad had a couple of sheep who were runts. These little lambs were not strong enough to be with the rest of the flock. So, Dad asked Karl (my brother) and I if we could take them, feed them on a bottle and get them strong enough so they could survive with the rest of the sheep. At that time, I did not realize that we would not be able to KEEP our sheep!!!
It was so much fun and exciting because now we could have our own farm with two little lambs. We did everything we needed to do to take care of and protect our livestock from the foxes and coyotes. We put them in a little shed at night. We made sure they had water and we fed them every day. They were our pets and would follow us around and became our playmates.
However, our careers as shepherds did not have a happy ending for Karl and me. A day came when our dad told us that our sheep were strong enough to come back to the flock because in a few months they would be taken to the market. Sob! Sob! Very Sad news! That ended our careers as shepherds.
As we reflect on this image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd, we are invited to consider the quality of our own relationship with Jesus as our caretaker and guide. On a scale of 1-10 where would you put your closeness to Jesus in your spiritual journey? How familiar are you with the sound of Jesus’s voice in your heart and spirit? What is Jesus’ name for you? What name does he call you? How does Jesus get your attention?
Like most people today, chances are you do not know any or many shepherds. For the First Christians, who were familiar with shepherds, the Good Shepherd was a favorite image to associate with Christ. The earliest Christian art depicts Christ as the Good Shepherd, not the crucified Savior. Surprisingly, the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is still popular. Early childhood education experts tell us that young children find the concept of a shepherd and his love for his sheep a delight for children.
In the Old Testament God was called a shepherd, and God’s people the flock. In Psalm 23 the psalmist sings that the shepherd leads him to green pastures near refreshing waters. “I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest…The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal” (Ezekiel 34:15-16).
According to the Gospels, Jesus referred to himself as a shepherd. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). A shepherd knows his sheep well. There is a personal relationship between Jesus and his followers. Jesús knows each of us by name. Through Lectio Divina, we listen for the call of Jesus, our shepherd and respond with our communal living in the daily celebration of our lives with one another.
The parable that Jesus talked about the lost sheep is a story about Jesus’ concern and care for all people. He is the loving and tender shepherd who goes to great lengths to search for his lost sheep and when he finds it, carries it back on his shoulders rejoicing. When Jesus gave Peter the responsibility of being the leader of his Church, he used the imagery of the shepherd. “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter said to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you. “Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my lambs…Tend to my sheep… Take care of my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
We are fed and cared for through the Christian community and by our participation in the sacramental life of our Church. The image of shepherds is that they are kind, loving, patient, strong and self-sacrificing. They are all good images for Jesus. And the sheep, who can be rather stupid and foolish creatures, are a good symbol for us sometimes. Lord, you are my shepherd: I shall not want for anything! AMEN!