A poor defenseless sheep left on its own does not have a chance of survival. Eventually its predators will find it and destroy it. Each one of us is a defenseless sheep when we are apart from God and all he offers us through his Son Jesus Christ. The message that runs through all of today’s readings is both a warning and an encouragement. We are warned that evil abounds and seeks our destruction; we are also given the Good News that God provides all we need to withstand evil and live in security.
The warnings: in the first reading Peter counsels us: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” In the second reading he reminds us: “For you had gone astray like sheep.” Finally, the Gospel mentions thieves and robbers who come “to steal and slaughter and destroy.” These warnings give us an accurate picture of our situation in a fallen world. If we find ourselves outside the sheepfold, outside the safety of the Body of Christ, we are in danger.
The hope of the Church is that Peter’s message will have the same effect on us as it had on his listeners in Jerusalem: “when they heard this, they were cut to the heart.” What are we to do, what is anyone to do who finds himself away from the saving work of Christ? The answer is clear and compelling: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The gift of Baptism that we have received and that we renewed on Easter Day came at a cost. The second reading explains how Jesus our Shepherd paid the price to redeem his precious sheep and save us from our sins: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live in righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” Given this knowledge, our response must be gratitude and a willingness to accept the gift. It is a gift of healing and new life, abundant life. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” How generous is our God!
The choice is ours: we can wander aimlessly like a stray sheep, risking our eternal life, or we can hear the voice of the true Shepherd and follow him in security. Today’s Responsorial Psalm beautifully describes our condition when we accept the guidance and protection of the Lord; we have nothing to fear. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.”
In the Gospel Jesus describes himself as a shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” The sheep for their part “follow him, because they recognize his voice.” This image shows us how important it is for us to listen to and follow the Lord’s voice. We must be able to recognize his voice and distinguish it from the “voice of strangers” who pose dangers for our spiritual life. Shifting the image, Jesus also tells us he is “the gate”: “Whoever enters through me will be saved.” He is inviting us into his own life, the life he shares with the Father in the Holy Spirit. His Sacred Heart, pierced for us upon the Cross, is our entrance to eternal life.
The love God has for each one of us, his wayward sheep, is tremendous and boundless. Today offers us an opportunity to ponder the immense love, mercy and abundant life offered to us all by the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. May his gift be accepted and God be praised!
Have I ever found myself outside the sheepfold, outside the safety of the Body of Christ and thus in danger of falling into sin? Am I aware that my salvation depends on my choices in life – listening or not listening to the voice of Jesus, the Shepherd of my soul? How do I express and manifest to others the tremendous and boundless love and mercy of the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.