During this season of Easter we are prayerfully examining our new life in the Risen Christ. On this Fourth Sunday of Easter we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday and mark it as a World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Through the resurrection of Jesus we are given a new life. We are freed from the old life of slavery to sin with all of its ugliness and we are raised to a new life that is both good and beautiful. Through the sanctifying grace of baptism we are transformed into the image of Jesus who is the Good Shepherd and who radiates the glory of beauty and truth. St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans: “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Rom 6,4) Through our baptism we are united to Christ, configured to his divine life and called to imitate him in his vocation as the Good Shepherd. By the grace of our baptism we are all called and given a vocation to live our lives in love for one another. Our vocation is to love one another as Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has loved us. His love is a self-giving love in which he freely lays down his life for the sheep that have been entrusted to his care.
In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (Jn 10,11f) The good shepherd is not just a morally good person who does good things for others. John does not use the word for morally good but he uses the word for beautiful. Jesus is the beautiful shepherd. The beauty of the good shepherd is the love that he has for his sheep, in that, he is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. How beautiful is a love so deep and life-giving to others! We are all too familiar in the world with the ugliness of a selfish life in which the only love is a selfish and self-serving love of self. Our world is full of narcissists who are in love with their own reflection. These are the shepherds who Jesus calls “hired men” for they are only interested in their own needs and they have “no concern for the sheep.” The hired man is a coward who runs away from sacrifice and who fails to do battle with the wolves of disordered desires.
The beautiful shepherd takes the time to get to know his sheep individually and he calls them each by name. The beautiful shepherd has an intimate relationship with every one of his sheep and he knows their needs and their fears and he takes care of them all and protects them from the wolves. Jesus says, “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 10,14f) The love of the Good Shepherd is a divine love that reflects the eternal love of the Father for the Son. The Good Shepherd does not lord it over the sheep but he humbly lays down his life in service to the sheep. He offers his life as a gift. His life is freely given, it is not taken away from him. He has no resentment for the sacrifices that he must make for his sheep to have an abundant life. His joy is full when he sees his sheep flourishing and resting in his love.
Jesus is not only a beautiful shepherd but he is so identified with his sheep that he is also the beautiful and innocent lamb. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. As an innocent, spotless and peaceful lamb, Jesus places his life into the hands of the Father. As the sheep trust in the love of the good shepherd, Jesus trusts in the love of the Father for him. In laying down his life for his sheep, he becomes the Lamb of God, whose self-gifting love is freely given for the life of the sheep.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we pray for vocations to a new life of love and service in the image and manner of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Jesus calls us by name to follow him freely and to give our lives in the service of love to others. We are called to throw off the ugliness of an old way of life that is lived in sin and selfishness, like a hired man, bought and paid for by the world, and to put on a new and beautiful way of life in which we lay down our lives as a gift of love that has been purchased by the blood of Christ. Our vocation is to be a beautiful shepherd and a spotless and innocent lamb, a child of God, drawing life from the love of the Father. How beautiful is the newness of life that we are called to live in the Risen Christ. Please pray that each of us may hear the Good Shepherd, Jesus, calling our name, and sending us out with a vocation to holiness and deeper union with him, so that the world might be transformed in the Father’s love.