The beautiful title given to this day is “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Pope Francis, in his Spiritual Reflection, gives us a profound message about who the Good Shepherd is: he is the One who loves us unconditionally, who says to us, “Your life is worth so much to me, that to save it I give all of myself.”
The Good Shepherd also seeks to have a relationship with us. Pope Francis describes this relationship as one that goes beyond intellectual knowledge. Rather, it is a matter of knowing and being known: “I know mine and mine know me,” Jesus says. This is a personal relationship of mutual tenderness. In order to develop this type of relationship with Jesus, we must allow ourselves to be known by him. “Not closing up within ourselves; but opening ourselves to the Lord, so that he may know us. He is attentive to each one of us; he knows the depths of our heart: he knows our merits and our defects…. He accepts us as we are, even with our sins, so as to heal us, to forgive us.”
The Lord is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep – who lays down his life for us. Jesus makes a contrast between himself and the “hired man” who runs away when danger approaches. Sadly, sometimes we act as though we are under the care of a hired man, not under the care of a good shepherd. When things are going well and we are not facing any hardships, we say that we are being well cared for, but when trials and suffering come upon us, we panic, as if we have been abandoned to face the trials alone and unprotected.
Today’s Liturgy reminds us that we are never abandoned. This is a continuation of the Easter message of great joy: Jesus is alive and he is with us! He has already overcome the very things we are afraid of. We are not alone and unprotected in a hostile world; the Lord is with us. He says to us again and again, “Do not be afraid, it is I. Peace be with you.” It is a message we need to hear, a message of hope, especially now in our pandemic-burdened world.
Jesus the Good Shepherd tells us that he has power to lay down his life and power to take it up again. He is speaking about his Death and Resurrection. The Lord is free and powerful, more powerful than death. He is not helpless. He is not irrelevant. He oversees everything, even life and death. When we know this truth and when we believe it, it makes all the difference – the difference between being under the care of a shepherd and being under the care of a hired man. It is the difference between living in confidence and living in fear, between peace and anxiety.
Jesus says, “I know mine and mine know me.” There are two different actions here: Jesus knowing his sheep, and secondly, his sheep knowing him. The first action is quite clear. He knows us because he is God. The second action depends on us. Do we know the Shepherd? Do we know the Lord?
Knowing the Lord involves both recognizing his voice and following him. It is essential that we learn to recognize the voice of the Lord so that we can learn from him what he wants of us. Every one of us has a vocation, a unique personal call from God. He reveals it to us as we listen to him. To recognize his voice and follow him, we need to develop a habit of talking and listening to God – that is, of prayer. We listen to God as he speaks to us through the Scriptures, through the Liturgy, and through the Church. He also speaks to us through the people around us and the events in our life. If we are listening, we can interpret relationships and events through the lens of God’s providence. What is our Shepherd saying in this situation or through this person? He has not abandoned us; he is guiding us right now.
When we hear his voice, we must follow him! To follow the Good Shepherd is the way of salvation, for he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Peter’s words in today’s first reading echo this truth: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
To welcome the gift of salvation, we must know and believe in the depths of our being that we need a Savior, a Shepherd. Without the Shepherd leading us, we will go astray. To acknowledge this requires a degree of self-knowledge and humility. It is hard for our pride to admit that we need help, but the truth is we simply cannot save ourselves. We must grow up and be responsible, but not outside the care of the Shepherd, not outside the will of God. We never outgrow our need for God, our need for a Shepherd. If we want true maturity, we must follow him. It is a lifelong journey that leads us into the fullness of life.
Is my relationship with the Lord a personal one of mutual tenderness? In this pandemic-burdened world, do I take to heart the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid, it is I”? In my prayer, am I able to recognize the voice of the Lord as he guides my every step?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.