The message of the Good Shepherd
The readings for this weekend invite us to reflect upon the image of the Good Shepherd.
In the first reading, we see St. Peter asserting himself as a fearless, self-assured leader. His newfound courage was based on the intimate friendship he had with Jesus, both before and after the resurrection, and the experience of receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Peter would become the first shepherd to set a course for the church in carrying on the mission of Jesus.
The Responsorial Psalm continues with the Good Shepherd theme, giving us the very familiar Psalm 23 (the Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want). There’s no doubt this is one of the most comforting pieces of prose in all of Scripture.
We can imagine a handsome, olive skinned, kindly man carrying a defenseless, cuddly lamb. My trip to the Holy Land spoiled my picturesque scene of the Good Shepherd with several sightings of the real thing.
The sheep I saw in the fields looked knotty and rough, and I imagined they smelled quite "outdoorsy." The shepherds did not really look all that sweet either, more haggard and worn out, just trying to get their sheep where they were supposed to be.
In the Gospel, Jesus refers to himself as the sheep gate. The gate is what protects the passageway from those who want in and those who want out. It is the protection from the chaos and disorder of the outside.
It seems that whatever age we may be, or how much confidence or security we may have, it is always comforting to feel that special protection.
As with most images, the images of Jesus are multidimensional. We can view the church as our shepherd, especially present in the leaders.
While not idyllic, the church tries to carry on the ministry of the Good Shepherd to lead us to green and verdant pastures, so that goodness and kindness may follow us all the days of our lives and to dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.
Father William L’Heureux is pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Silver Creek, St. Rose of Lima Parish in Genoa and Ss. Peter and Paul Parish in Krakow.