Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Once upon a time, a priest led his church members on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While they were on a bus on the first day of their tour of the Holy Land, the priest started teaching the pilgrims about shepherds and how they lead the flock by just walking in front of them while they follow behind wherever he goes. In fact, he assured them that they would see that on the way.
True to his statement, they came across a herd of sheep, but this time the shepherd was behind the flock. The priest was disappointed that his exposition on how shepherds lead the sheep was contradicted by the sight of a shepherd walking behind the sheep in the Holy Land, and he asked the bus driver to stop so that he could ask why.
The priest met the shepherd, who thankfully could speak English, and said, “I thought shepherds here lead the flock by going ahead of them, and that is what I was teaching my church members on the bus; I am disappointed to see that you are walking behind them and that contradicts my teaching?
Immediately the shepherd replied and said, “You are very right, but in this case, I am the butcher, not the shepherd; I am taking them to the slaughter.” The priest was speechless and walked back to the bus to explain the unfortunate situation, and everyone felt bad for the sheep marching joyfully to their death. The lesson, not all who lead the sheep are taking them to the green pasture; some are taking them to the slaughterhouse.
This Fourth Sunday of Easter is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel Reading (John 10:1-10) chronicles part of the Lord’s reflection on his identity, character, and mission as the Good Shepherd in contrast to the thief (the devil) who comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
The work of a shepherd in biblical times was very strenuous and demanding. The shepherd takes the herd to pasture in verdant landscapes, and this often involves a distant and dangerous journey.
The Book of Exodus (3:1f) tells us that Moses led the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, to the far side of the wilderness, where he encountered the burning bush. David had to fight wild animals in the woods to protect the sheep (1 Sam. 17:34-36). Recall that the news about the birth of Jesus first came to the shepherds, who were keeping watch over the flock at night while people slept.
Intentional commitment and engagement are crucial to the work of a shepherd. Notice that David used a shepherd’s schedule to describe God’s care and lovingkindness in the popular Psalm (23). It is, therefore, not surprising that Jesus used the same image of a shepherd to describe his salvific role and distinguished this role from the harmful onslaught of the thief, the devil, whose three-fold agenda is to steal, kill, and destroy. However, there would be a need for us to know what the thief intends to steal, kill, and destroy.
What is the thief stealing? The thief (the devil) is not as interested in your money or material possessions as some people erroneously think. He wants to steal your attention from God. And he achieves this by giving you distraction in exchange. Our world today is saturated by uncountable outlets of distraction, starting with our mobile phones.
What is the thief killing? The thief is not merely interested in our physical death but in the extinction of our love and passion for God. In the Book of Revelation (2:4), the vision of John tells us that God reprimanded the Church at Ephesus because “they abandoned their first love,” that is God. When our love and passion for God dies, we fall away from God.
What is the thief destroying? After stealing our attention and killing our love and passion for God, the thief aims at destroying the soul in hell fire which is eternal separation from God. So, our Lord Jesus cautions us in Mark (8:36) “What will it profit anyone to have gained the whole yet forfeit one’s soul.”
Receiving the Benefit of the Good Shepherd
In the Gospel passage, our Lord Jesus Christ contrasts his mission with that of the thief by telling us that he comes to give us life so that we can have it in abundance. But what does abundant life mean for us? We can understand this if we decode the flip side of the mission of the thief.
Instead of stealing, the Good Shepherd comes to give: Giving is a major characteristic of God and comes from God’s heart of love (John 3:16). God’s relationship with us bears this imprint of giving. Life is a gift from God as well as the savior Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the sanctifier, and the kingdom of heaven.
Instead of killing, the Good Shepherd comes to revive and rekindle: David prayed in Psalm (119:88) “Revive me according to your gracious love, and I will keep the decrees that you have proclaimed.” The mission of Jesus is to communicate the love of the Father to us, and through the action of the Holy Spirit, we are revived, and our love and passion for God are rekindled.
Instead of destroying, the Good Shepherd comes to save: In Luke (19:10), Jesus made it clear that the Son of God came to seek and save the lost. Note that “the lost” here is the product of the extinction of the love and passion for God orchestrated by the thief.
Moving Forward: Becoming A Good Shepherd
Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd; he is also the gate to the sheepfold, while the Father is the gatekeeper. Jesus invites us to become good shepherds as his brothers and sisters with a common Father. Recall that he says in Matthew (11:29a), “Learn from me!”
From our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, we learn how to first walk in the right path and encourage others to do the same. The true image of a committed shepherd is leading the way and encouraging the sheep to follow, unlike the butcher in our opening story, who drives them to the slaughterhouse.
Our world needs selfless and committed shepherds, not those with awkward agendas who force themselves on the sheep to lead them even when they do not know their voices and do not accept them.
God is still looking for good shepherds after His heart (Jer. 3:15) who will satisfy the true demands of shepherding. You can become one today if you open your heart to first accept the Lord as your shepherd and walk in His ways.
God bless you.