The Easter readings reveal the presence of the risen Jesus in the life of the early Church and help us to relive what those encounters may have meant for his early followers, and for us today. This Sunday we take a “break” from the post-Resurrection appearances as we celebrate what has come to be known as Good Shepherd Sunday.
The words in today’s Gospel from John were addressed to the Pharisees following the cure of the man born blind. They would have understood the Old Testament images of God or the Messiah as good shepherd and Israel’s leaders as bad shepherds.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus makes seven statements beginning with the words “I am.” Jesus describes himself as bread, light, resurrection, the way, the gate, etc., but only “I am the good shepherd” describes himself with a human role.
I found myself reading this Gospel passage as one of the twelve after the Resurrection as they recalled all that Jesus said and did while he was with them. They have now experienced the Good Shepherd having laid down his life for his sheep. We hear Jesus repeat five times that he lays down his life for his sheep. This is dedication beyond measure. Imagine the range of emotions during those post-Resurrection days because his followers have now witnessed the depth of the dedication and what it means to lay down one’s life.
Now they are called to be shepherds. Read today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles against this backdrop. This is the sequence of what was described in last Sunday’s first reading. Peter had cured a cripple from birth and wants the people to know that it was not through his own power, but through the power of Jesus of Nazareth whom the Jews had crucified. Peter, filled with Holy Spirit, is preaching to the rulers and elders of the people who were obviously hostile to the Gospel message. And perhaps in his heart are the words Jesus addressed to the Pharisees: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead and they will hear my voice.” Peter is now that voice.
Let us remember this image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd, a Shepherd who understands us, and one whose patience and love are infinite. And let us be grateful for the times when we have been found by the Shepherd who never leaves our side. Let us remember to pray for those called to be shepherds in places of persecution and hostility that they may be filled with the Holy Spirit in their proclamation of the Resurrection.
— Dominica Rocchio, SC
Sr. Dominica, most recently a member of the Congregation’s leadership team, has ministered in education as a teacher, principal, and in administrative positions in the archdioceses of New York and Newark, NJ, where she served as Superintendent of Schools and Secretary for Education. At present, she works on Special Projects for the Congregation.
Image: Good Shepherd by Peter Watts.