Fourth Sunday of Easter
Have you ever wondered what it was like for St. Peter (or any of the apostles) to get up in front of a crowd and address them for the first time? Remember they were not trained as public speakers! They were used to catching fish with nets, not fishing with words! We could imagine that for St. Peter the only terror which came close to matching this was the time when he chose to step out of his boat in the middle of a storm to try to walk toward Jesus. It was his first lesson of total trust in the Lord.
Each of us has our own story of a time we were forced to overcome our greatest fear, sometimes for the sake of someone else – perhaps it was indeed jumping into deep water to save someone. The words “deep water” could suggest many things. It’s amazing how we can do difficult things when we must tap into our inner resources of strength and compassion.
Why is today’s Good Shepherd Gospel so well-known and popular? There might be several reasons. First of all, Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd. That’s a powerful title. He names himself the Good Shepherd. That means he takes on the responsibility to do what good shepherds do, not like the hirelings whose only concern is guarding their paycheck. It means he is willing to know his sheep by name. Can you imagine how hard that would be when each individual sheep looks like the other? And yet each sheep has a distinguishing detail or lack of one. Learning that small difference is an act of care. But then comes the most appealing characteristic of all – the Good Shepherd is someone willing to die to protect his sheep. This is the ultimate responsibility and of course the most courageous.
What can possibly bring someone to that point of total commitment when dealing with human beings? We can presume a personal relationship that has been established far beyond duty and obligation. The next question of course is how does that relationship become so deep? As Christians, we believe that relationships develop to that level only when we look for Christ in one another?
We have a powerful example of a good and committed shepherd in the person of Blessed Stanley Rother, an American priest of the Oklahoma City archdiocese who loved his people in Guatemala to the point of martyrdom in 1981. He is quoted as saying “a shepherd never runs away.”
Being a good shepherd is of course not reserved to the martyrs. We are all called to be shepherds for one another, which means far more than just being “nice” to one another! Through baptism, we are in union with Christ and therefore we are in union with one another.
Reflection: If someone were observing you every day, would they regard you as a good shepherd?
Reflection by Fr. Daniel Petsche, OSB