4th Sunday of Easter - Good Shepherds

The imagery of sheep and shepherd is very touching and significant in a biblical setting. But in our own time it has become less appealing, less applicable. We certainly recognize that we need the love and guidance of Jesus. We realize that He died for us, that He knows us personally and that He is always with us and concerned for our safety and well being. But God's people no longer see themselves as sheep.

sheepandshepherdNowadays our people are generally much better educated, and better equipped to make their own conscience decisions. They are not content to be passive and they are often not submissive. They have come to a new understanding of their dignity and their role as baptized Christians and they realize that they share the call to ministry, to evangelization, and to service - that they too are called to be "shepherds."

I think we tend to forget that when Jesus talks about the "Good Shepherd" his intent is to focus more on the role of shepherd and less on the attitude of the sheep. His view was much broader than simply the powerlessness and helplessness of the flock.  Instead he was modeling a life-style to which he was inviting all of his followers to share - one of concern and compassion, of service and dedication, one of relentless and abounding love.

How do we see ourselves as his disciples?  And how do others see us?

The leaders of our Church still need very much to radiate the personal love and compassion of Jesus. But so also do the people of God.  Sheherds need to lead, to guide.  But the people of God need ministers who are in touch with the real circumstances of life, not aloof, ivory towered idealists. They need models of faith and hope, models who can lead them along the paths of prayer and spirituality, models who can inspire trust and courage in the face of suffering and trial.

They need most of all, fellow travelers on the faith journey who can not only offer healing, comfort and support in the name and spirit of Jesus, but also recognize their own failures and weaknesses and humbly seek forgiveness and reconciliation.

It is clear from the words of Jesus that our role as disciples of the Gospel is first and foremost that of reconciling, healing and uniting all people.  In short, we are all shepherds and we need one another. But it also continues to be painfully obvious that we all have a long way to go.

We need new models for faith development, new methods to reach the minds and hearts of people. We can no longer simply rely on fate, or tradition, or the threat of eternal damnation. We must touch the most fundamental needs of people's humanity, and help them to see how uniquely the gift of Jesus and His Gospel fulfill those needs.

The Gospel is blunt and absolutely clear in reminding us that our shepherding should be marked by compassion and justice, gentleness and reconciliation and by our own willingness to lay down our lives. Maybe it is time for all of us to re-examine just how willing we are to do just that.