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Gospel commentary: Good Shepherd Sunday

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 Jn 10:1-10

The fourth Sunday of Easter every year is called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because the Gospel comes from the 10th chapter of St. John’s Gospel. In that chapter, Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd and the Gate into the flock.

We picture in our minds romantic scenes of a shepherd quietly tending the sheep in an atmosphere of peace and safety. In fact, the work of a shepherd was and is much more arduous. The shepherd has to keep the sheep together, find the strays, protect the herd against predators, watch out for disease and make sure that the herd has access to food and water.

Every flock of sheep needs a shepherd, a point of unity to which the sheep can look. The Lord is our shepherd guiding us through the shepherds He has given us in our Holy Father, our bishops and pastors. Sheep follow the voice of the shepherd. This Sunday is an opportunity to examine our loyalty to the shepherds God has given us.

Sometimes, people adopt a position of constant critique against church leaders generating the same polarization within the church that has infected our nation’s political life.

But enough about our shepherds. Let us turn the image around and, following a suggestion from a homily of Pope St. Gregory the Great, we can ask ourselves: What kind of members of the flock are we?

Do we wander from the flock or ignore it? Do we cause division within the flock? Are we attentive to the direction in which our shepherd is calling us? Do we trust our shepherds?

It is said that sheep have no natural defenses against a predator. Their only defense is to stay with the flock and follow the shepherd.

Tragically, it is the case that when some people are in distress and they need to remain close to the church, they separate themselves from the Body of Christ.

Some people who have drifted from or who have publicly rejected the church feel too ashamed to return and so they drift away from the flock and even abandon the flock only to find themselves at the mercy of enemies, storms and hunger. The church needs us to spread the Gospel. But, we also need the church.

Gathering with the church on Sunday, every Sunday, is how we remain close to the flock of Christ. We need the support, the affirmation, the sense of belonging, the grace of the sacraments and the truth of Christ to give us a place of safety in a world where the velocity of change is increasing and people have no anchor-hold for living their lives. They are at the mercy of the media, which is not a good place to be.

There has been a significant amount of writing that has read Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd psalm, today’s responsorial psalm, in a Christian and sacramental context. They write of the “restful waters” of Baptism. The “table set before us” is the Eucharist. The “anointing of the head with oil” is Confirmation.

This Easter season can be a powerful reminder, in the words of St. Peter in today’s second reading, that we had gone astray like sheep but have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of our souls. To stay close to the flock of Christ is to “stay safe” in an unsafe world.

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017