What have we seen and heard about Resurrection over these past days and weeks? It is the new creation, the great feast, the ark come through the flood, a rich pasture, a lover's garden, the eternal palace, the heavenly temple, the city that has awaited our return for years, the New Jerusalem. Resurrection life, then, means to be baptized and re-created in Jesus, to come to the table, to survive the flood, to hear the voice of the shepherd, to be the beloved of God, to be heir to the throne and priest to the temple and citizen of the spirit-formed city.
On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday, we encounter once again the Good Shepherd who knows his flock intimately. Jesus relies on one of his favorite metaphors to assure us that we can place our confidence in him.
Tending flocks and herds is an important part of the Palestinian economy in biblical times. In the Old Testament, God is called the Shepherd of Israel who goes before the flock (Ps.68:7), guides it (Ps.23:3), leads it to food and water (Ps.23:2), protects it (Ps.23:4), and carries its young (Is.40:11). Embedded in the living piety of believers, the metaphor brings out the fact that the entire people are sheltered by God. The New Testament does not judge shepherds adversely. They know their sheep (Jn.10:3), seek lost sheep (Lk.15:4ff.), and hazard their lives for the flock (Jn.10:11-12).
The shepherd is a figure for God himself (Lk.15:4ff.). Jesus knew shepherds and had much sympathy for their lot. The New Testament never calls God a shepherd, and only in the parable of the lost sheep (Lk.15:4ff.; Mt.18:12ff.) does the comparison occur. Here God, like the rejoicing shepherd of the parable, takes joy in the forgiveness and restoration of the sinner. The choice of the image reflects vividly the contrast between Jesus' love for sinners and the Pharisees' contempt for them. In fact, it can be said that the Emmaus story in Luke's Gospel [24:13-35] which we read last Sunday, is a continuation of Jesus' mission, his pursuit of wayward disciples which was already prefigured by the parable of the shepherd who went in search of lost sheep until he found them and returned them to the fold (15:3-7).
The beloved shepherd metaphor provides us with one of the most powerful and beautiful metaphors in the Bible: our God and his Son are shepherds that care for us and know us and even love us in our stubbornness, deafness and diffidence. Anthropologists tell us that between the hunting and the farming stages of cultural development shepherds stood as people who existed in both worlds and tied them together. For that reason, shepherds appear in ancient myths and sagas as a symbol for the divine unity of opposites.
What the ancient pagans hinted at, Christian faith has brought into a crisp reality with Jesus Christ as the great reconciler. He is the Good Shepherd, who has come into the center of every great conflict in order to establish unity and peace. John's Gospel expression of Jesus as the "Good Shepherd" invites us to look carefully at the Greek meaning of the word we have translated as "good". In fact, the expression in the Greek New Testament is really the beautiful or noble shepherd. His outward beauty and nobility reflect an inward reality of beauty and nobility.
Today may Jesus our Good Shepherd guide us into those verdant pastures of peace and joy. When we follow the Risen Lord and listen to his voice, goodness and kindness will follow us, and we shall live forever in his home.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
-View Fr. Rosica's Easter Reflections online by clicking HERE.