The Preacher’s Study
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Acts of the Apostles 9.36-43
While most of us have never seen a shepherd and even fewer have ever been a shepherd, all of us have at times been shepherded. We’ve been herded for our own safety or for the safety of others, or even just for the convenience of others. As school children, we probably were shepherded into lines in and out of the classroom. As adults, we’ve been shepherded into lines when shopping or visiting amusement parks. Airports are one of the places where we are shepherded through security and onto the plane. Some of us may have been shepherded in emergencies, evacuating us to safety. One way or another, we been part of the crowd, herded around. We probably have all experienced shepherds who were kind and concerned, as well as those who’ve treated us like sheep rather than like a human person.
Today’s gospel is one of the shortest gospels ever proclaimed at Mass. Jesus simply describes his relationship with his followers as the relationship between a shepherd who really cares for his sheep and the sheep. When we believe in the one who leads us, we follow willingly, even with delight because we know that the Good Shepherd will never lead us astray, but will only lead us to places of great delight.
The neophytes in our community have been shepherded over a long period of time to the waters of baptism. Like sheep guided on the way to a spring of living water, they have walked a long distance. But the waters they approached and the food and drink they received were much more than simply water and some grass to chew on. They were led to waters that made them part of that crowd John describes in our second reading today. They and we are all part of that “great Multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue.” They and we are those “who have survived the time of great distress; [we] have washed our robes and made them while in the blood of the Lamb.”
Being shepherded is not always a bad thing for us. Though we may not always like being treated as part of the herd, when we are guided by the Good Shepherd, great things can happen. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep, calls them each by name, and brings them to waters of eternal life.
Sometimes, after being shepherded for a long time, we can begin to believe we know the way all by ourselves. We’ve been this way before. We can be tempted to set out on our own. Even then, we are told in another gospel passage (see Luke 15:1-7), that the Good Shepherd will search for us until he finds us and brings us back when we are lost.
The Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep, knows us each by name, guides us to life giving waters, searches for us when we are lost, and rejoices when we are found.
We may not have experienced such good shepherds in security lines at airports or elsewhere, but here, in this community of faith, the Good Shepherd will always guide us with care and compassion.
Dennis Chriszt, a Roman Catholic priest since 1982, is the founding pastor of the Church of the Resurrection - a Catholic community in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the founding director of Precious Blood Parish Missions, a preacher of missions and retreats, a teacher of liturgy and catechetical methods, and an author of two books: Creating an Effective Mystagogy: A Handbook for Catechumenate Leaders ( San Jose, CA: Resources Publications, Inc., 2001) and The Fifty Days of Joy: Easter Season Reflections for New Catholics (Schiller Park, IL: World Library Publications, 2007). He is a member of the Christian Initiation Seminar of the North American Academy of Liturgy.