“A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

The gospel reading is appropriate for this “Good Shepherd” Sunday; we jump ahead in John to chapter ten (vv. 11-18).  This is actually the second part of the Good Shepherd discourse (we will hear the first part tomorrow) as we continue to work through John (with one detour for the Solemnity of the Ascension) for the rest of the Easter season (ending on Pentecost).  Jesus declares Himself to care so deeply for the flock He guides that He will lay down His life for them unlike a hired hand who will elect to save himself when there is trouble.  Jesus also speaks of other sheep who “do not belong to this fold” (v. 16) who recognize Him and will eventually join the flock (i.e., the Gentiles).  Finally, He says that he will lay down His life and take it up again because the Father commands it.  His first words after declaring “I am the good shepherd” (v. 11) are found in the headline.  We know that in fact Jesus does lay down His life for His sheep (all of humanity) but this message is shocking to His hearers at the time (as we shall soon see).  It helps to appreciate the contrast between sheep and shepherd.  Sheep are not particularly intelligent but they know their master’s voice and follow it unhesitatingly, becoming lost if not given direction.  The shepherd, of infinitely more value than the sheep, if he is good, protects the sheep from marauding enemies, even to the point of putting his own life in danger.  Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, not only is our good shepherd but condescends to become one of the “sheep” (the gulf between God and man is infinitely greater than the difference between man and sheep) to become “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).  In unfathomable humility, He becomes one of us to take the punishment we deserve and in return only asks that we obey Him.  Let us always seek to understand the Lord’s will for us and strive to follow it perfectly.  Prayer in conjunction with divine revelation given to us through the Church (most perfectly combined in the Mass) provides the road map for hearing and following the irresistible voice of the Master to ensure that we never get lost.

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