Good Shepherd Sunday
There is an ancient legend told in the mountains of the Andes, about two mountain tribes. One lived at the foot of the mountains in the lowlands and the other lived at the mountain’s top. These two tribes were enemies and constantly at war with one another. One day the tribe from the top of the mountain came down to attack the lowlander’s village. In the course of their plunder they kidnapped a young boy and took him with them back up the mountain. The lowlanders immediately responded by selecting fifty of their strongest and most capable warriors and sending them on a mission to rescue the boy. The problem was that the lowlanders did not know how to climb mountains. They did not know the paths that should be used. So these fifty soldiers tried path after path and climbing method after climbing method. All to no avail. After three or four days of futile efforts, hopeless and helpless, they decided to give up and return to their village. But as they were packing their gear, they looked up and they saw the mother of the child who had been kidnapped coming down from the mountain that they were unable to climb. She had her son strapped to her back. One of the soldiers went up to greet her and said, “You succeeded where fifty of the most capable people of our village, failed. How is this possible?” The woman shrugged and said, “He was not your child.”
Whenever we give life to anyone, we can do things that others cannot do and that others cannot understand. Whenever we give life to another person, we are connected to that person forever. For the giving of life forms a bond that time does not break. Mothers know this because, in the most fundamental sense, they give life to another. If we can appreciate the way that fathers and mothers love their sons and daughters here on earth, that can give us a small insight to how much greater is God’s care and love for us. Today’s second reading tells us that God loves us as daughters and sons. In the gospel Jesus the good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for us.
So the good news found in the gospel we have just heard is this: this giving of life that leads to a connection out of which worth and sacrifice flow, is not limited simply to us. It also applies to God. God is the one who gave us life and so God is bound to us by bonds that cannot be broken. Just as the Good Shepherd cares for the sheep and is willing to lay down his life for the sheep; God cares for us and is willing to do all that is necessary to help us. Because of this, we should never doubt our value in God’s eyes. Because of this we should never think that God has forgotten us, no matter how difficult our life becomes. God has given life to us and like a mother, can never stop caring for us, can never fail to save us.
We must believe in that love. We must believe it when we are discouraged and frightened, when we’ve failed or lost our way, when we’re struggling with loss or sickness or bitterness. God will not forget us. God will not abandon us. God loves us. That is not a cliché. That is our hope and our salvation.
Today we have something more to think about that is: The Scriptures do not present sheep to us in order to imply that we are sheep. We are not sheep. For that matter, neither is Jesus a shepherd. But the image of shepherd and sheep is used to say something about our relationship to God. Therefore, today, rather than being distracted by the animal imagery, I would like to ask what is useful about it. How does the image of sheep help us understand our relationship to God.
“I’m the Good Shepherd,” declares Jesus, “who lays down his life for the sheep”. We are the sheep. To take away our sins, he died on the cross. He did so out sheer love for us. There was no selfish motive in his death. He was not like a hired shepherd who tends the sheep for money. Jesus was not merely doing his job. He was committed to love us.
How do we respond to this sacrificial and unconditional love of God through his Son Jesus? Is our own love for our fellow human beings as determined as Christ’s love for us? Can we say that we are truly followers of our Shepherd in our care, concern and selfless service to others?
Christ our Good Shepherd expects all of us clergy and laity to be good shepherds to one another according to each one’s vocation in life. Husbands and wives by doing more than enough for each other, parents by making extra sacrifices for the good of their children, teachers by spending extra hours to instruct weak students, doctors and nurses taking up extra work to show they care for their patients, and parishioners by generously supporting their parish community. In a word, all of us are called to be deeply concerned about each other and committed to each other’s welfare.
Let us make every effort to deepen our relationship with God and with one another.