THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD; THERE IS NOTHING I SHALL WANT (PSALM 23:1)
The image of God as a Good Shepherd is not new and occurs several times in the Old Testament. Psalm 23, perhaps, brings this image out most vividly and for generations has provided hope and peace to many an anxious heart. Written by King David, himself a shepherd, it is a song of hope, comfort, confidence, and joy that in the Lord there is no want. He is our provider and he provides us life in abundance.
John 10:10 affirms this as Jesus reiterates the promise that He comes so that we may have life, and have it to the full – in other words a life of abundance, a life without any want!
In Palestine the shepherd brought the sheep into the sheepfold every night. It was a circular stone wall with an opening or door where the sheep entered. Once the sheep were inside for the night the shepherd slept in that opening or door all night. The sheep could not get out without stepping over the shepherd’s body which meant they would not get out at all during the night. Jesus is the gate, anyone who enters through him will be safe, and will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture. Unlike the bad shepherds (the Pharisees) who steal and kill and destroy, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, brings us life.
Christ says to us very clearly that his sheep, i.e. us, hear his voice. He knows them and they follow him. He also says that no one will be able to snatch them out of his hand. The only way his sheep will come out of his hand is when they choose to leave. Jesus doesn’t put us in a cage. If we wander off freely, hearing someone else’s voice, he will go after us, to try to bring us back, but he respects our freedom to leave, even if this is an abuse of our freedom.
It’s very important to ask ourselves very often if we’re really hearing the voice of the Lord, if we’re really following him. It’s getting harder and harder today for us to do that because of the noise of the world and all of the competing voices. In the 1st Reading, Peter calls upon the Jews to turn back to the Christ – it is a call to repentance, a call to be open to the Holy Spirit. Peter’s call on that day of Pentecost, rings true even today – “Save yourselves from this perverse generation”.
As his disciples, we share a dual responsibility.As sheep we are expected to “” our shepherd, “” and “” him. As shepherds, like Jesus, we need to lead, care, nurture, protect and even guide those from others into the fold; thereby completing his job of bringing others into the fold until there will be one flock and one shepherd.
Pope John Paul II declared the 4th Sunday of Easter a Day of Prayer for Vocations. 2017 marks the 54th Anniversary of this Day. As we contemplate Jesus the Good Shepherd, we pray that many may listen to the voice of Jesus as he calls, and that they may enter the sheepfold through him and be safe and have life and live it to the fullest.