This Fourth Sunday in the Easter Season draws us to Jesus, The Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd declares, “I know my sheep. They hear my voice, and they follow me.”
As Christians, there is hardly a more powerful image for us than that of Jesus tending his flock, carrying the strayed lamb on his shoulders, 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. It is because Jesus was one with his heavenly father and hearing his voice, that he had enough faith for the cross, enough hope to endure it, and enough love to die.
It is more than worthwhile, then, that we consider the qualities of Jesus 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? By listening to the voice of Jesus leading us, is there anything we’ve done out of generosity of heart for a neighbor in need, for my spouse, for the kids—for anybody?
For a Christian disciple there is no substitution for being in relationship to Jesus. The Good Shepherd knows his own and they know him. That’s how connected a good pastor is to his flock. 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 1200 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.
The Good Shepherd knows us, but do we truly know him? Do we recognize his voice amidst the din of our everyday lives? If we do not hear him calling us and speaking to us with that gentle shepherd’s voice, it is unlikely that we will have the courage to speak truth in our conversations with others, to have courage to make daily decisions based on faith, or to detect God’s presence in the world around us. 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.