What does the Good Shepherd look like?

Image source

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

If I asked you to close your eyes
and imagine what the Good Shepherd looks like
my guess is you'll come up with a bearded man with long hair,
dressed in loose garments, and holding a sheep in his arms
or carrying one over his shoulders, around his neck.

That’s just how artists have painted and sculpted the Good Shepherd
for a couple thousand years and that’s the image we have.

Keep that image in mind.

Good shepherds keep their sheep together,
being careful not to let any of them stray into harm’s way.

A good shepherd gathers his sheep into a corral at day’s end;
Then he lays down to sleep at the entrance to the corral,
making of his own body the gate,
lest the sheep try to wander off
or thief or a wolf comes prowling in the night.

Literally, then, the shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
And today’s gospel reminds us that the shepherd knows his sheep
and sees that no one takes them away from him.

After this past week’s experience perhaps we can make some additions
to our gallery of images of the Good Shepherd.

•The Good Shepherd is a man or woman
and wears running shorts and a T-shirt
and breaks through barriers to reach and rescue the injured.

•The Good Shepherd wears the whites and blues
of EMT’s and doctors and nurses and
binds up the wounds of those whose life is bleeding out.

•The Good Shepherd wears the uniform of the National Guard
and helps to restore order in a throng of panicked people.

•The Good Shepherd is an army
of law enforcement personnel and fire fighters
in trucks and cruisers and armored vehicles and helicopters
seeking out those who came to harm and scatter the flock.

•The Good Shepherd is millions of people around the world
holding their breath in prayer, pleading for God to bring an end
to the terror prowling around the sheepfold.

Over the past week we witnessed the sacrificial love
of good shepherds all over the Boston area:
laying down their lives in harm’s way for our safety;
herding us together, into safe places;
and doing everything they could to insure
that no thief or wolf would do us harm.

Of course Christ is THE Good Shepherd
but he often shepherds us through our neighbor’s love and care.

We have so many shepherds for whom to be grateful this morning
and we should thank the Lord, the Good Shepherd,
for the selfless care they’ve offered us this week.

Now, we are usually imaged as the flock the Good Shepherd tends,
but you and I are called, as well, to shepherd one another.

The Good Shepherd asks us to lay down our lives for one another.

• For most of us, most of the time,
this will mean serving as “first responders” not on city streets,
but in our families and at school and where we work and live.

• For most of us,
this will mean laying down our own preferences and desires
and putting others’ needs ahead of our own.

• For most of us,
this will mean putting aside our own contentment and comfort
and providing first for the happiness of those around us.

• For most of us,
this will mean keeping an eye out, wherever we find ourselves,
for those too sick or too weak,
too helpless or too powerless to fend for themselves
-- and offering them our help and our strength.

• For most of us this will mean:
making peace when we’re at war with each other;
forgiving even when we know we’ve been wronged;
speaking the truth when it’s easier to lie or be silent;
and being gracious when everything within us wants to strike back.

• For most of us, most of the time,
that’s how we’re called to shepherd one another
at home, at school and where we work and live.

We have with us this morning
some of the most beautiful sheep in the flock:
these girls and boys are the Lord’s lambs
and he holds them close, close to his chest,
holds them around his neck, in love.

You love them, too, and like the Good Shepherd
who gave give his life for his flock
 -- you’d give your lives for them.

As we see the innocence and beauty of these children
coming to receive the Lord for the first time
in the Bread and Cup of the Eucharist,
let’s pray that the Lord who gathers us around his table, this altar,
will help us see in one another:
friends, not foes;
brothers and sisters, not strangers;
sheep of our own fold who need our shepherding
and whose shepherding each of us needs in return.


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