GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY
“The Lord is your shepherd; don’t ever say “I am lost”.
He leads you to green pastures; don’t ever say “I am broke”.
Let the weak shout; “I am very strong in the Lord!”
“It was the shepherds who were the first to recognize a king that the rest of the world refused to acknowledge. So it’s not surprising that kings would talk to shepherds.”
My favorite quote from Pope Francis: “The priest who seldom goes out of himself … misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. … This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in a sense collectors of antiquities or novelties — instead of being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep.’ This is what I am asking you — be shepherds with the smell of sheep.” — Pope Francis’ address to the world’s priests at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday March 28
- A lady visiting the Holy Land came upon a sheepfold located high on a hilltop. Her attention was drawn to one poor sheep lying by the side of the road bleating in pain. Looking more closely, she discovered that its leg was injured. She asked the shepherd how it happened.
“I had to break it myself,” he answered sadly. “It was the only way I could keep that wayward creature from straying into unsafe places. From past experience I have found that a sheep will follow me once I have nursed it back to health. Because of the loving relationship that will be established as I care for her, in the future she will come instantly at my beck and call.”
The woman replied thoughtfully, “Sometimes we poor human sheep also want our stubborn ways and, as a result, stray into dangerous paths until the Good Shepherd sends sorrow and pain to arrest us. Coming then into a sweeter and closer communion with our Savior, we at last are conditioned to hear his voice and follow his leading.”
- Shrek the sheep became famous several years ago when he was found after hiding out in caves for six years. Of course, during this time his fleece grew without anyone having shorn (shaved) it. When he was finally found and shaved, his fleece weighed an amazing sixty pounds – 50 lbs more than normal and enough to make twenty men’s suits.
Shrek carried six times the regular weight of his fleece simply because he was away from his shepherd. It took a professional sheerer less than a half hour to rid him of his burden.
Shrek died back in 2011, but his story has just recently resurfaced in news outlets and social media sites alike due to a new interest in the science of fleece growth:
Modern Farmer an internet resource for the farming community was curious: can a sheep’s wool grow forever? Its writer, Jesse Hirsch, interviewed Dave Thomas, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s head of sheep studies. Thomas says a Merino sheep like Shrek will grow wool indefinitely.
Apparently, when God created sheep he had their need for people in mind. More specifically, their need for a shepherd. The same is true of us. Life involves the accumulation of burdens. Burdens that can’t be tended to without the help of the Good Shepherd.
One internet blogger had this to say of Shrek’s plight:
Shrek is much like a person who knows Jesus Christ but has wandered. If we avoid Christ’s constant refining of our character, we’re going to indefinitely accumulate extra weight in this world—a weight we don’t have to bear.
When Shrek was found, a professional sheep shearer took care of Shrek’s fleece in twenty-eight minutes. Shrek’s sixty pound fleece was finally removed. All it took was coming home to his shepherd.
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
- Dr. Andrew Bonar told me how, in the Highlands of Scotland, a sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn’t get out of. The grass on these mountains is very sweet and the sheep like it, and they will jump down ten or twelve feet, and then they can’t jump back again, and the shepherd hears them bleating in distress. They may be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. The shepherd will wait until they are so faint they cannot stand, and then they will put a rope around him, and he will go over and pull that sheep up out of the jaws of death. “Why don’t they go down there when the sheep first gets there?” I asked. “Ah!” He said, “they are so very foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed if they did!” And that is the way with men; they won’t go back to God till they have no friends and have lost everything. If you are a wanderer I tell you that the Good Shepherd will bring you back the moment you have given up trying to save yourself and are willing to let Him save you His own way.
- One Sunday, the young pastor decided to use the 23rd Psalm for his children’s sermon. He began to tell the children about sheep—that they aren’t smart and need lots of guidance and that a shepherd’s job is to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals and keep them from wandering away.
He pointed to the little children in the room and said they were the sheep and needed lots of guidance. Then the pastor put his hands out to the side, palms up in a dramatic gesture, and with raised eyebrows said to the children, “If you are the sheep, then who is the shepherd?” He was pretty obviously indicating himself.
A few seconds of silence followed, then one little boy said, “Jesus is the shepherd.”
The young pastor, obviously caught by surprise, said to the boy, “Well, then, who am I?”
The boy thought for a moment and then said with a shrug, “I guess you must be a sheep dog.”
- In Palestine today, it is still possible to witness a scene that Jesus almost certainly saw two thousand years ago, that of Bedouin shepherds bringing their flocks home from the various pastures they have grazed during the day. Often those flocks will end up at the same watering hole around dusk, so that they get all mixed up together—eight or nine small flocks turning into a convention of thirsty sheep. Their shepherds do not worry about the mix-up, however. When it is time to go home, each one issues his or her own distinctive call—a special trill or whistle, or a particular tune on a particular reed pipe, and that shepherd’s sheep withdraw from the crowd to follow their shepherd home. They know whom they belong to; they know their shepherd’s voice, and it is the only one they will follow. Barbara Brown Taylor in The Preaching Life (Cowley, 1993), p. 147; submitted by Kevin Miller, Wheaton, Illinois
Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter and it is commonly known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” a day in which the Church recalls the relationship between God and His people as described in the image of Shepherd and Sheep. Each year, the Gospel Reading of today is chosen from Chapter 10 of St. John’s Gospel, where Jesus speaks of himself as the “Good Shepherd.” Today, in fact, we listen to the first and the beginning part of that chapter.
In recent times, this day has also become known as “Vocation Sunday,” a day when our Church prays especially for new shepherds and pastors to lead the Christian communities.
Now, we are in the Easter Season and today’s Liturgy continues to hearten us with the presence of the Risen Lord in our midst, contemplated as Shepherd and Guardian of the sheep. The Responsorial Psalm for today, beautifully introduces that theme – “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd because of his gentle care and loving commitment to the flock he pastures and protects. The Gospel Reading of today tells us that Jesus is also the “gate for the sheep” because he is the way to salvation. As sheep gate, he leads us to eternal life. The First Reading from Acts of the Apostles portrays Peter proclaiming how to return to the Lord’s flock, by personal repentance, the purification of Baptism and by receiving the Holy Spirit. In the Second Reading from his 1st Letter, Peter seems to echo the words of Isaiah 53 as he recalls how we had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way. Jesus Christ takes on himself the task of reuniting the sheep, as shepherd and guardian of our souls.
“REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST!”:
Although at this point in the Liturgical Calendar the Church has not yet celebrated Pentecost, the First Reading in the entire Easter season is taken from the Acts of the Apostles concerning events that occurred after the descent of the Holy Spirit. This is no accident, but it demonstrates that the whole season is Spirit-filled, from the Easter Vigil to Pentecost. Today’s reading is taken from Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost itself, continuing the passage read last Sunday. In response to his proclamation of the Good News proclaimed last week, some of the crowd are struck by the message and ask, “What are we to do?” The truth cannot be entertained passively, but demands a response in action. Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Peter must have been an excellent speaker because we are told that the people were “cut to the heart” and conceivably because of that famous ‘Jewish guilt,’ there seemed to have been many converts, as many as three thousand persons. Thus, the proclamation of the resurrection provokes a crisis in people’s lives, demands decision, and results in rapid growth of the new community of the believers.
“THE SHEPHERD AND GUARDIAN OF SOULS!”
The image of Jesus, as a shepherd, established itself early in the outlook of the first Christians. In the Second Reading from the 1st Letter of Peter, a metaphor is also used, this time for Jesus himself. Jesus is called ‘the shepherd and guardian of souls.’ It is an interesting mixed metaphor because a few paragraphs earlier, in the section we read last week, Jesus is also the lamb as well as the shepherd. An interesting mixed metaphor!
In the reading today, Peter makes an impassioned appeal to the believers to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. He tells us that Jesus suffered for us so greatly and completely that by his wounds we were healed. We were like sheep that had lost their way, but now we have been brought back to follow Christ, who showed us the redemptive meaning of suffering.
JESUS: THE GOOD SHEPHERD
“Two men were called on, in a large classroom, to recite the 23rd Psalm. One was a published orator trained in speech technique and drama. He repeated the psalm in a powerful way. When he finished, the audience cheered and even asked for an encore that they might hear his wonderful voice again. “Then the other man, who was much older, repeated the same words–‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…’ But when he finished, no sound came from the large class. Instead, people sat in a deep mood of devotion and prayer.
“Then the first man, the orator, stood to his feet. ‘I have a confession to make,’ he said. ‘The difference between what you have just heard from my old friend, and what you heard from me is this: I know the Psalm, my friend knows the Shepherd.'”
Of the many images painted by John in his wonderful Gospel, probably the most descriptive is that of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. For like a shepherd, Jesus is concerned with the welfare and the care of His sheep. As Jesus delivered this sermon, on the heels of healing the blind man at the Temple, He clearly declares His identity and plainly states His purposes and plans. In these verses, we can the heart of Jesus on display. Here, He reveals His great love for sinners and His plan for dealing with their sin.
As I bring you this message, I want you to ask yourself this question, “Do I really know the Shepherd?” If you do not know Him, then I want you to know this is a message that you need to hear. For during the next few minutes, you are going to learn from the Bible itself, exactly how you can be saved. My prayer for you is that if you do not know Jesus as your personal Savior, you will before you finish reading this homily. If you do know Him, then you are going to hear how knowing the Shepherd makes your life more abundant and rich.
These verses teach us that Jesus possesses certain qualities that qualify Him to be called the Good Shepherd. I would like to take a few minutes this morning to look into this passage and see for ourselves why Jesus deserves this title. Please go along with me today as we walk through these verses and discover Jesus: The Good Shepherd.
I. V. 1-5 HE POSSESSES THE RIGHT CREDENTIALS
A. V. 1-3a He Came Properly – (Ill. Jesus uses the imagery of the sheepfold to illustrate His message. A Sheepfold was a circular wall about 10 feet tall with a single opening that served as a door. Several flocks might be placed into the sheepfold at night, with one of the shepherds lying in the opening to serve as the door. Nothing could get into, or out of the sheepfold without having to go through the shepherd. Jesus is telling His audience that only thieves and robbers seek to enter the sheepfold by another means besides the door. The shepherd, however, always comes in the right way!)
(Ill. Jesus proves that He is the Shepherd of the sheep because He came into the world in the right manner. He entered according to plan. He had presented His credentials to His people. Notice the proof that He came in the right way:
1. He had been born of a virgin – Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:21-23
2. He had been born in Bethlehem – Micah 5:2; Matt. 2:4-6
3. He had come in the fulness of time – Gal. 4:4
4. He had been brought out of Egypt – Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:14-15
5. His arrival had provoked the rage of the enemy – Jer. 31:15; Matt. 2:16-18.
Ill. He was the right person, born in the right place, arriving at the right time, summoned from the right country, and attended by the right sign. He possesses all the credentials necessary to prove that He is the Good Shepherd! (Ill. Luke 4:18-19; Isa. 61:1-2) When Jesus came with the right credentials, the porter, John the Baptist openly introduced Him to the nation and declared His identity – John 1:29.
B. He Calls Properly – (Ill. There may be several flocks sharing the same sheepfold. However, when the shepherd of the sheep walks up to the door and calls his sheep, they instantly recognize his voice and respond to him. They know his call.)
(Ill. A man in Australia was arrested and charged with stealing a sheep. But he claimed emphatically that it was one of his own that had been missing for many days. When the case went to court, the judge was puzzled, not knowing how to decide the matter. At last he asked that the sheep be brought into the courtroom. Then he ordered the plaintiff to step outside and call the animal. The sheep made no response except to raise its head and look frightened.
The judge then instructed the defendant to go to the courtyard and call the sheep. When the accused man began to make his distinctive call, the sheep bounded toward the door. It was obvious that he recognized the familiar voice of his master. “His sheep knows him,” said the judge. “Case dismissed!”)
(Ill. So it is with the lost soul. There are many voices which compete for our attention in the world, but there is a special note to the voice of the voice of the Lord. When He calls, everything changes – John 6:44. The lost sinner is dead until he is awakened by the Holy Spirit – Eph. 2:1. You see, the voice of the Good Shepherd is the only one that can awaken the dead heart. The only one that can give us hope. The only one that sounds right to a desperate soul. Ill. All other calls sound empty and frightening when compared to the sweet call of the Lord Jesus.)
C. V. 4-5 He Commands Properly – (Ill. When the shepherd calls forth his sheep, he goes before them and they instinctively follow him. He doesn’t have to drive them, that is for goats. He just leads them out and they follow close behind.)
(Ill. What a truth! When a soul is saved by the grace of God, they will have a desire to follow the Good Shepherd! When a person is saved and their heart is right with God, they do not have to be begged to come to worship, to tithe, to share their faith, etc. They have been called out by the Shepherd and have a burning burden to worship Him, 2 Cor. 5:17. Their heart’s desire is summed up by 1 Cor. 10:31.)
II. V. 6-10 HE POSSESSES THE RIGHT CHARACTER
A. V. 6-8 His Personality – In these verses, Jesus reveals His identity as the Door. If you will remember, there was only one opening going into or out of the sheepfold. It was in this opening that the shepherd lay. Therefore, the shepherd Him self became the door of the sheep. Nothing could enter the fold, nothing could exit the fold without going through the shepherd himself.
(Ill. If anyone desires entrance into the fold of God, there is only one door. That door is Jesus Himself! He is the only way to God, Eph. 2:18; John 14:6; Acts 4:12. This truth is abundantly clear from 1 John 5:12. Jesus is the only way to the Father. Any other way leads to death and damnation – Matt. 7:13-14.)
(Ill. This may seem narrow minded and out of step with our modern way of thinking. However, it is perfectly in line with what God has said in His Word – 1 Tim. 2:5.)
B. V. 9a His Performance – Jesus plainly tells His listeners that He alone is the door into God’s eternal salvation. His promise to those who enter is that they will be saved. That is, they will be rescued from the wrath of God and will experience the fullness of God’s perfect salvation.
(Ill. Saved = to be rescued from all harm and danger. When a sinner comes to Jesus and is born again, they are forever delivered from the awesome wrath of Almighty God – John 5:24; Rom. 5:9.)
(Ill. It is wonderful to be eternally saved and free from the fear of dying lost and ending up in Hell. I am grateful for the salvation that I have in Jesus today!)
C. V. 9b-10 His Promise – (Ill. The thief is a threat to the sheep. When a thief enters the fold, his primary purpose is to use the sheep for his own personal gain. He doesn’t care about their welfare. The Good Shepherd, on the other hand, comes so that the sheep might experience a life that is immeasurably better. He cares about the sheep and He promises them a new and better life in Himself.)
(Ill. Everything changes when a person meets Jesus! When He enters into a life, it cannot remain the same. He gives us the ability to live better, to love better and to do something with our lives that will glorify God. Jesus makes the difference between a life that is lived for the devil and one that is lived for the Lord – Eph. 2:1-4! Ill.)
III. V. 11-16 HE POSSESSES THE RIGHT CONCERN
A. V. 11-13 His Concern Is Proven By His Sacrifice – (Ill. Jesus explains the difference between the concerned shepherd and the hireling. The hireling is there only for the paycheck. When trouble comes, he runs away and leaves the sheep to be devoured by the wolves. The shepherd, on the other hand, owns the sheep and has a vested interested in their welfare. Therefore, the good shepherd is willing to pay any price to protect the sheep, even if it means that he has to give His very life for them.)
(Ill. Jesus has proven that He is the Good Shepherd because He saw the danger that the sheep were in and did not run away, but did everything in His power to save them. The Bible says that people are like wayward sheep, Isa. 53:6. This waywardness, or sin, that is in us has separated us from both fellowship and relationship with God, Isa. 59:2. Worse than this, the sin of man has brought him under the wrath of God, John 3:18; 36. This condition will eventually culminate in every lost sinner being cast into an eternal Hell, Rom. 6:23. However, Jesus did something to change that! Since God had said that the wages of sin was death, Jesus came down from Heaven and was born in human flesh. Then, after a sinless life He died on a cross, taking the place of every sinner who would put his/her faith in Him, 2 Cor. 5:21; 2 Cor. 5:15.)
(Ill. The terrible death Jesus was called upon to endure for sinners. There is no more horrible death known to mankind than that of crucifixion, Isa. 52:14; Psa. 22:14-22. He was beaten, mocked, spat upon, slapped, had his beard plucked from His face, was whipped with a cat-o-nine tails, was forced to wear a crown of thorns which were driven deep into His head by His tormentors with a staff. He endured all of this simply because He loved you and me. Yet, beyond this, He endured the awesome wrath of Almighty God against all sin. When Jesus was on that cross, He literally became sin and was judged in our place. By this priceless sacrifice for the sheep, He deserves the title “Good Shepherd”!)
(Ill. Some might ask, “Why did Jesus have to die?” The answer is simple! Blood is required to redeem the soul from sin – Heb. 9:22. When Jesus died, He shed His blood, and later, after His resurrection, He ascended into Heaven with the blood and offered a perfect sacrifice on the mercy seat in Heaven, Heb. 9:12; 24-28; 10:12. Thank God for the Blood of Jesus! It is the sinner’s only plea – 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 1:5; Rev 5:9. He had to die so that you and I might live!)
B. V. 14 His Concern Is Proven By His Sheep – (Ill. Jesus speaks of the bond that exists between the shepherd and his sheep. They know Him and will not follow another, and the shepherd knows his sheep. Ill. The individual sheep in a flock all look alike to the untrained eye. A good shepherd, however, can tell them apart–often because of their defects and peculiar traits. A man who was tending a large flock explained this to a Christian friend who expressed surprise at his familiarity with each animal. “See that sheep over there?” he asked. “Notice how it toes in a little. The one behind it has a squint; the next one has a patch of wool off its back; ahead is one with a distinguishing black mark, while the one closest to us has a small piece torn out of its ear.” Observing all of them, the believer thought about Christ, the Chief Shepherd, who also knows the individual weaknesses and failings of His flock and watches over the members with discerning love and sympathetic understanding. With infinite concern He notes the doubts, fears, trials, conflicts, and defeats that disturb their peace, and He swiftly comes to their aid.)
The Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He knows everything there is to know about you – Matt. 10:29-31; Matt. 6:8. He knows every strength and every weakness. He knows every joy and every burden. He knows every mountain and every valley. He knows every victory and every battle and He stands ready to help you in your times of need, Heb. 4:15-16. He is your Good Shepherd and He will look after you – Psa. 23:1-6) (Ill. He is still Jehovah-Jireh – “The Lord will see to it!”, Gen. 22:14.
C. V. 15-16 He Proves His Concern By His Salvation – (Ill. Jesus makes it plain that there will be other sheep that will come along afterwards. These sheep can be assured of being saved just like those who were there to hear Jesus speak. You see, He came the first time to the nation of Israel, John 1:11, but when they rejected Him, He turned to the Gentiles. Therefore, anyone who needs salvation can rest assured that Jesus will provide that salvation when faith is placed in Him – John 1:12.)
(Ill. When faith is placed in Jesus Christ, salvation is always the result. This salvation is complete, Heb. 7:25; and it is eternal, vrs. 28-29. The good news is this: Jesus died for every person in the world. If you will come to Him right now and will place your trust in Him, He will save your soul. You see, the salvation that Jesus provides is open to all. He is still the Door and He is still the Good Shepherd. Like the shepherd of Luke 15:4-7, He is still out on the mountains of sin searching for those who are lost and away from the fold. All who will respond to Him in faith will be brought into the flock and will be saved, Acts 16:31.)
There is no question that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The only question is this: Do you know the Shepherd? How you answer that question determines where you can expect to spend eternity. Your answer to that question will make all the difference between Heaven and Hell. If you know the Shepherd, then you can rejoice in the fact that He will always be with you and that He will always watch over you. If you do not know Him, then I invite you to come to Him right now. You do not have to, nor should you want to wait. Delay is dangerous! Come to Jesus today and He will save your soul. He will place you in the flock of God. He will save you from the wrath of God. He will give you a new life and a new birth. Will you come to Him?
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.