This is GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY and the Good Shepherd declares that he lays down his life on his own and that “I have the power to lay it down and the power to take it up again.” We do not often consider these words and this claim made by the Good Shepherd; rather we are drawn more to the pastoral image of his tending the flock, carrying the strayed lamb on his shoulders and returning it to the flock, and seeking out the lost sheep. And yet it is ultimately the Good Shepherd’s power to lay down life and take it up again that really counts the most and gives meaning to all else that he does as a good shepherd. The laying down and taking up again is his power to promise us and give to us the risen life.
Remember that the easy formula for living the risen life is simply to have enough faith and enough hope to meet the challenges of the day—with enough love. Jesus himself used that formula to complete his mission of redemption. He had enough faith for the cross, enough hope to endure it, and enough love to die.
Having acknowledged that it always has been and always will be all about Jesus’ resurrection, then it is more than worthwhile that we consider the qualities of his good shepherding. Number one, he risks his own life freely to protect his flock and without counting the cost. This is truly an amazing self-giving for the sake of others that flows from pure generosity of heart. Can we recall the last time we did something of an unselfish nature out of pure generosity of heart—something for the neighbor, the spouse, the kids, –anybody?
The Good Shepherd knows his own and they know him. That’s how connected he is to those whom he serves. This is a hard one for me. I can’t even remember the names of all of the altar servers when I want to, let alone 1300 families. Yet I know how good I feel when someone recognizes me and says my name without hesitation; of course that just embarrasses me all the more when I can’t recall his or her name. [Lord, help me with this one! It’s really important to the flock and I’m terrible at it. Oh yes, help me with remembering appointments and events, while you’re at it.]
It is important to remember that it is in our very celebration of the Mass together that Jesus is “good shepherding” us at this very moment! His laying down life and taking it up again is powerful and effective in this offertory we make and the communion we share. He is taking care of us.
All of us were baptized into Jesus Christ, priest, prophet and servant king; that means we were baptized (and confirmed) into the life and identity of the Good Shepherd. Today let us seek the Easter Season blessing and grace of being good shepherds in whatever life situation God might place us. We cannot be sure of what comes tomorrow for each of us—what might be required of us—but let us pray that we will bring to today and tomorrow the generous heart of the Good Shepherd—a heart that gives freely, not counting the cost, a heart that desires to know and make real connection, a heart that protects from “the wolves that scatter.” We can do this! Not all by ourselves, but with the help of the one who shepherds us still—the one who has power to lay down life and the power to take it up again