What do you call a priest in Germany? A German Shepherd. No I won’t give up my day job.
This joke is appropriate for two reasons:- one, because we continue in the rejoicing of Eastertide – because Christ is risen people!; and two, because this Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday. Why? Because it is in this Sunday’s Gospel that Jesus says, and repeats, again and again: I am the Good Shepherd.
But so what? Why is it important for us that Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd? There is much I could say here: I will limit myself to three.
That Jesus is the Good Shepherd is crucial because it means that now, at this very moment, Jesus is leading the Church and taking care of us. This indeed is a key part of the very heart of the message of Easter. Easter is not that Jesus died and rose for us a long time ago and is now far away at the right hand of the Father while we middle along trying to grasp our way forward down here on earth trying to work out this Church thing all by ourselve. Jesus is alive: now! He is not in the tomb. He is at the right hand of the Father leading his Church through the Holy Spirit he himself acts through on earth. We see this in the First Reading. It’s very interesting: St Peter doesn’t say Filled with the resolutions of the democratic commune…; it doesn’t even say Filled with his own learnings and preferences about what he thinks Jesus teaches…; rather it says Filled with the Holy Spirit… And this anouncement follows the healing of a man: democratic communes nor ourselves personally can act in this way. Certainly, doctors and psychologists are very helpful, and are a gift of God – so use them! But only God can heal in the way that he does: this is the point of the sign of this healing – that truly, Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his Apostles, and they and their successors act with his own authority on earth.
Secondly, that Jesus is the Good Shepherd also means that we are a flock. In other words, Christianity is not merely me and my personal Lord and Saviour. This is not Christianity. Christianity is an us: all of us saved with and through each other united to the Risen Lord. It must be so: because the Church is a communion of love. And love is not merely me and God: it is me, united and preoccupied with the others, and their welfare – and God.
Finally: it means that Jesus lays down his life for us. The first thing that Jesus does is not simply to come down and start handing out our marching orders. Rather, first of all, and in fact in all eternity, he makes a total gift of himself to the Father, in total and complete obedience. It is not a slavish obedience (slavery is only found amongst the demons and fallen humanity): rather, it is the obedience of total filial trust, in the Father – which gurantees only Good, and Truth and Beauty, for Christ and for all those redeemed in him. This is the command I have been given by my Father. As Jesus obeys first, and models that obedience first, and shows us the fruits of his obedience first – ineffable Beatitude – so can we also then have confidence in abandoning ourself to the salvation and freedom and perfection that only Jesus offers us.
Which brings us to our homework for the week: how do I serve my brothers and sisters in my parish? The question is not if I should do something in my parish: I am a Christian, and therefore by definition my gifts and time belong, in part, to my fellow parishioners. So how do I serve them? Let us ask the living Lord today: Lord, what do you me to do to serve my brothers and sisters in this parish? Amen.