April 20, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for us

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I will lay down my life for the sheep”
(Jn 10:14-15).

This weekend, we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday. The readings offered to us by the Church this Sunday speak of the intense love and concern that Jesus the Good Shepherd has for us, his sisters and brothers, and of the sacrifices God has made to ensure our salvation.

The “good shepherd” theme resonates throughout both the Old and New testaments as an indication of selfless love. “The Lord is my shepherd,” we pray in Psalm 23. “He guides me along the right path; he is true to his name. If I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear” (Ps 23:3-4).

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel. “A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them” (Jn 10:11-12).

Jesus is not like the hired man, an indifferent shepherd. His sheep (all of us) are his own. We belong to him, and what happens to each of us is his personal concern. Jesus would rather die than see any one of us scattered from the flock that is his Church or ensnared by the Evil One.

This is one of the most powerful images in the Bible—the personal care and commitment that our God has for each one of us. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God,” St. John tells us in the second reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (1 Jn 3:1–2). “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

In the fullness of time, we will be like Jesus, and we will see him as he is. What a powerful statement of faith, hope and love! In spite of our weakness, our selfishness and sin, we will be full-fledged members of the family of God. We will be “washed clean” by the blood of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who has laid down his life for us. As St. John says, “Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure” (1 Jn 3:3).

Pope Francis has often used images of the good shepherd and his sheep to illustrate how important it is for us to resist the temptation to be indifferent to the needs of our brothers and sisters. In fact, he has a pectoral cross depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd among a flock of sheep.

Perhaps the pope’s most famous use of this image is the statement early in his pontificate that pastors, which means “shepherds” in Latin, should stay close to the marginalized, and be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” When a pastor “doesn’t put his own skin and own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks” from those he has ministered to, the pope said. A good shepherd is so close to his people that he takes on their hopes and fears. He becomes like them, “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.”

The good news this Easter season, and always, is that our God is so close to us that he became one of us, taking on our flesh and blood and smell. And even more, he laid down his life for us, surrendering his life for the good of his sheep. Then, by the miracle of the Father’s love for his beloved, Jesus who was crucified for us was raised from the dead. As St. Peter says in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4:8–12), the stone rejected by us, the builders, has become the cornerstone. The Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us has taken it up again so that we might be saved.

In Acts, St. Peter assures us that there is no salvation through anyone but Jesus, the Good Shepherd. As we continue our Easter celebrations, let’s thank God for the ministry of the Good Shepherd in our lives. Let’s pray that our pastors, and all who are called to be missionary disciples, follow his example and stay so close to their people that they become “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” †

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