The Fourth Sunday of Easter gives us the beautiful image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This is by far a favorite of many people. Who is not moved by the image of the Good Shepherd cradling a lamb in his arms, or holding a sheep tightly around his neck? The lamb and sheep secure in the arms of the shepherd, heeding the words of the shepherd, “Be not afraid.”
Jesus describes himself as the shepherd of the flock. The sheep belong to him, and he is ready to die for them. Unlike the hireling who runs when he sees a wolf coming.
Jesus made wonderful promises to those who belong to his flock. He said that none of them would ever be lost. Nor would anyone succeed in snatching from his care the sheep that the Father has entrusted to him. The sheep that belong to Jesus will be safe because the Father’s power is in him. And Jesus will lead his sheep to the pastures of eternal life.
The feeling of belonging to Jesus, and of being known and loved by him, is very comforting and reassuring. Who would not want to be a part of his flock? But how can we tell we belong to Jesus’ flock? What does belonging entail?
First, one must believe in Jesus. We enter the flock by becoming believers. But belief is only the starting point. The second thing we must do is listen to his voice. To listen to the voice of Jesus is to heed his teachings. And the third thing we must do is follow him. To follow the Shepherd is to put his words into practice.
It is obvious that the relationship between the Shepherd and his sheep is a two way street. The sheep have to make a conscious decision to belong because Jesus can’t save people against their will. Also, it doesn’t mean that being sheep of his flock guarantees an easy, comfortable life. In reality, the opposite is true. The sheep can expect hardships and persecution for the sake of the Shepherd. Trials and sufferings are an opportunity to show one’s faith and obedience to the Good Shepherd.
The flock is an image of community. Human beings have a deep need for community. Jesus knew this and that is why he wanted his followers to live as a community. It is within the community of believers that we find support, encouragement, and companionship. We can’t belong to Jesus without belonging also to his flock.
May we find comfort, strength, and hope in the Good Shepherd’s words, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
— Fr. Dennis, May 12, 2019