Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - April 25, 2021
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is often referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday. Every year, the Gospel is taken from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, in which Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd. In fact, all the readings and the prayers for Mass today reflect this aspect of Jesus’ identity. Right from the beginning of Mass, when we pray that God will “lead us to a share in the joys of heaven, so that the humble flock may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before,” we focus on the Good Shepherd and the ways we are called to follow him and participate in his life.
In the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear St. Peter proclaim that “there is no salvation through anyone else nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” He is, of course, talking about the name of Jesus. Peter’s healing of a man who was crippled from birth was under examination by the leaders of the people and elders. Asked by whose authority they did such a thing, Peter answers with a witness that is filled with both urgency and conviction: It is by the power of Jesus’ name that the healing has come about. In his own way, Peter boldly testifies to the one by whom we are saved, to the one good, true shepherd who leads us to the heavenly joy we prayed for earlier. Peter sets the pattern and example for us all to live and proclaim this good news just as boldly. And it really is possible for us to do it because you and I are blessed, or better, filled with the same Holy Spirit.
The First Letter of John helps us understand how this is possible. In his great love, God has taken the initiative by giving us the gift of his Son with the result that we have become “children of God” not just in the future but right now. We enjoy this relationship right now. The world might not know us, but God, in the person of the Good Shepherd, does know us and calls us to know him and live like him, that is, by his values and with his mind and heart. As children of God, we look toward the future that is yet to be revealed. What we do know and hope for is to enjoy the fullness of God’s glory forever when “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Until all is revealed, though, we want to keep our focus and attention on the Good Shepherd himself, who knows us and knows all those who follow him. The intimacy of the relationship once again catches our attention. The presentation of the Good Shepherd draws on the language that describes the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son to describe the intimate connection between Jesus and his followers. Jesus knows his sheep, and they know him, just as the Father and Son know each other. He calls them by name; they follow his voice alone, and thus, they experience the life he provides. Those who follow Jesus strive to listen to him, understand his teaching, believe what they hear, and depend on him.
Pope Benedict XVI tells us that "the 'sheep' are, after all, people created by God, images of God, who are not things to be possessed (as a bad shepherd or hired hand might consider them) but those who are free in relation to truth and love. The Shepherd proves that they belong to him precisely by knowing and loving them, by wishing them to be in the freedom of the truth. They belong to him through the oneness of 'knowing,' through the communion of truth that the Shepherd himself is. This is why he does not 'use' them but gives his life for them." [Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Doubleday, 2007, 281-282]
Lastly, since there are others who do not yet belong to the flock and enjoy the intimacy and care of the Good Shepherd, they too must be sought and brought into the fold. The Shepherd says, “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So, there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Jesus came to unite all believers with God and one another.
Today, we pray that the Good Shepherd will help us to be attentive to his call and devoted to Him as He is to us. We pray that He will help us care for and about one another, doing our best to keep each other within the flock and seeking those who have gone astray. We pray that He will continue to strengthen our communion with one another and, by the power of his Name, lead us all into the fullness of His salvation.