Homily: The Good Shepherd

For the next several Sundays of this Easter season we will be hearing some familiar themes from the Gospel of John. Jesus makes many imaginative “I am “ statements. “I am the light.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the living water.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.” When the guards come out to meet Him in the Garden, they are asked about who they seek. Jesus says simply, “I am.”

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say twice “I am the good shepherd.” John has Jesus continue Jesus’ discussion and confrontation with the Pharisees after His having healed a man who was born blind. This man, who was blind, first heard the voice of Jesus and through believing in that voice came to believe; and that was his sight.

The Pharisees are blinded by what they see and so are impaired of hearing and do not believe. Hearing and believing becomes the central message of Jesus’ saying that He is the “Good Shepherd”. It is the shepherd’s voice that is important and the sheep are not ignorant, but attentive and responsive. Jesus is telling those who can hear and want to hear important aspects of just what the Shepherd does for His flock.

In other chapters John has presented Jesus as teacher, finder, healer, feeder and forgiver. In this reading, Jesus is presented as the Shepherd Who will lay down His life for His flock. He will stay faithful to who is while the “hired” or the Pharisees turn away and have turned away from their vocation of tending their “flock”.

Each time John presents Jesus as saying “I am”, John is also saying that Jesus claims His followers as those who can also say with confidence, “I am” and “we are”. In this section we are not sheep, but listeners who learn the tenor and timber of His voice and message. It takes a long time to be so in tuned with the Voice of Jesus, that we need experiences of life and prayer to figure out the difference. Our egos need attention but not constant indulgence. Our fears are to be respected, but not adored. Our cultures’ ways are to be influential, but not conformed to entirely.

Most of us, upon listening to our own recorded voices, wonder if that is really us! What we sound like to others is not the exact way we sound like to ourselves. People who are visually impaired learn quickly who is who by their footsteps, pace, noisiness as well as their voices. Jesus is telling us that He will keep calling in the same voice and when we begin to follow, He will keep speaking. There will always be other voices, from within ourselves and from outside. How will we ever learn! (Larry Gillick, S.J.)

The gospel image of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd reminds us that Christ’s ministry is a ministry of service and solidarity. Jesus desires to bring the whole flock together.

We cannot focus simply on eternal life in some other future world. Jesus is concerned with what promotes eternal life in the present. We might say that the Good Shepherd is concerned for all the things that promote life: – Food, water, shelter, health care, – Community, compassion, solidarity – Spirituality, freedom, spirit
– Justice, righteousness, virtue – Peace and nonviolence.

We are called to share this same concern. With the “Good Shepherd,” we are called to be involved in the real issues of life and in justice for the whole world. We are called to empower others with the wonder of this Spirit.
“We often think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and ourselves as His flock, because He takes care of our needs whether we are the strongest of the flock or the weakest.

Just as Jesus made great efforts to seek out the lost and weakest sheep, so too we are called to seek out the poor, to work with them toward empowerment and strength, and to make sure that we are aware of how our decisions affect the less fortunate in our communities.”
Prayer – Meditation

Grant us, Lord God, a vision of our land as your love would make it: – a land where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; – a land where different races and cultures live in mutual respect; – a land where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love.
And give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (© Center of Concern)

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