4th Sunday of Easter (B)
This is Good Shepherd Sunday. In today’s Gospel, Jesus pictures himself as a shepherd who knows the sheep, for which he is ready to die if need be. The image of the good sheperd evokes feelings of mutual knowledge, trust and personal care with regard to the risen Jesus. He is the way by which we find safety and direction in our lives. Jesus is the ideal shepherd because he he knows his sheep to and is ready lay down his life for his sheep. This knowledge implies a deep personal relationship between shepherd and sheep.
Some people object to the whole image of the shepherd and sheep and resent being referred to as a dumb sheep. But do not read more into the statement than Jesus intended. Jesus is like a shepherd and we are like sheep. That is a great compliment to us, for the shepherd loves his sheep and risks his life for them. Jesus is so complex that no one image can express all his qualities, so he uses many. He used many different examples to convey his intimate union with humanity. He is our Teacher and we are his students. He is our Master and we are his disciples. He is our Savior and we are the saved. He is our God and we are his people. He is our shepherd and we are his sheep. Jesus is saying that his relationship to us is very close. We should feel honored, not insulted. In describing his role as our leader, Jesus did not choose the word King or Master or Lord. He is all these, but he preferred to be called “the Good Shepherd”.
In calling himself the Good Shepherd, Jesus is utilizing a figure that is perfectly suited to the psychology of his hearers. Their mentality was molded by the history of their ancestors. Abraham and the others, whose nomadic existence was governed by a search for pastures, who lived in the midst of their sheep, knew them individually and were known by them. Our culture knows another sort of flock, the badly organized flock of automobiles, the ant-like crowds of our large cities. If Jesus were with us today, he would no doubt use a different figure, but his teaching would be the same.
By using this image, Jesus wants us to understand that he is present in our own world, moving as much among us as shepherds used to mingle and walk among the sheep. No person of any period of time escapes from the pastoral vigilance of him who wants to lead the sheep where food and security will be found. But there is one condition. We must accept membership through faith in the flock of which Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
Furthermore, Jesus says he knows his sheep in the same way that the Father knows him. He is telling us that he knows man with a knowledge comparable to the knowledge with which the Father knows the Son. Jesus knows man with a direct knowledge which penetrates every part of his being. Between the Father and the Son, there is a mutual total knowledge without any limitation. Jesus knows us in this way, through and through. Jesus, therefore, makes us feel that we are no longer alone. I know there is One who knows me thoroughly, penetrates me, understands me, and -supreme security!- judges me not to condemn but to save me, for he loves me. God’s love for us is personal; he knows me, and invites me to know him, personally. A Good Shepherd, Jesus calls us all by name.