Jesus is Always the Good Shepherd — By Fr. Rich, O.P.

FrRichWebWe are celebrating the Fourth Sunday of Easter; the Gospel is of the “Good Shepherd.” It is a concept that, for a city boy like me, requires some serious investment of thought.

The position of shepherd is, in some ways, older than organized civilization. It has endured over a period of 5,000 years through every culture into our world today, essentially without significant change in its essence.

Should we focus on the three major religions, shepherd plays a major part in all three. In the Jewish world, the patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, the twelve tribes, the prophet Moses, King David, and the Old Testament prophet Amos at one time or another took care of sheep.

According to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, every messenger of God had the occupation of being a shepherd at one point in their lives, as he himself was as a young man. As narrated by Jabir bin Abdullah: The companions asked, “Were you a shepherd?” He (Muhammad) replied, “There was no prophet who was not a shepherd.”

And, of course, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for us. He is the ultimate caretaker. Regardless of what our world looks like, sounds like, or appears to be, Jesus is present, always available, always the shepherd.

In our world, though the occupation of sheepherder still exists, with technology and the encroachment of urban life, it is significantly different in its execution. Grazing is more controlled and confined; microchips essentially eliminate the idea of “lost sheep.” Predators, as well, are controlled, if not eliminated.

What has not changed for us, however, is an inherent need for relationship; more specifically, a need for a relationship with Jesus, our Messiah. With this Gospel, we move from the post-resurrection reassurances of Christ to a time in his ministry when he clearly offers to his listeners his “true, clear” identity. In the coming weeks, Jesus’ “I am” rings out: gate, shepherd, vine, resurrection, and life.

Christ is not a “was.” Christ is “I am who am,” always present through all of history. Present to his followers, to the people of the time, to Jews, Samaritans, Greeks, and Romans. Christ is present to us now and for all the tomorrows to come.

Next week: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit … (John 15:5)” He will not only be present to us, but also will continue to be a source of nourishment for us, both through his Eucharistic body and blood and by His words and deeds as found in our Scriptures.

This season moves us steadily forward to the final two bookmarks in Easter chapters: that moment when Jesus gratefully ascends to his Father, taking his rightful place at his side. The moment in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descends in wind and fire, enflaming Jesus’ friends with the desire to preach the Gospel.

Jesus, from that throne, remains always that Shepherd who lies down his life for all. Jesus, the “I am” who nurtures us, directs us, redeems us. Jesus, our resurrected brother who has redeemed us, reiterates God’s love now and always.