SFX Bulletin, 29 April 2012: We all have our personal reasons for coming to church every Sunday. Some of us come with petitions, some for thanksgiving and some come simply because it is an obligation required by the faith.
We are invited today to understand the church not simply as a 2,000-year-old institution but as part of God's plan for our redemption – a plan that was in God's heart from the very beginning of creation. (CCC759-760). God knew that sin would destroy men's communion with him as well as men's communion with each other. God's reaction to this chaos provoked by sin is the church through which the redeeming work of Jesus will continue until the end of time. (CCC761)
Our “churched” relationship with God is found in many biblical symbols that help us understand how God shares his divine life with us in the church. St. Peter uses the imagery of a building with Jesus as the “keystone” that unifies the two walls of God's house – the Jew and the Gentiles. This building of God is also the house of God in which his family dwells and the dwelling-place of God among men. As baptised, we are the living stones and our Christ-like lives will strengthen and continue to build up this house of God.
In the gospel, Jesus uses the imagery of a sheepfold for the church which he would establish after his resurrection. By calling himself “the good shepherd ...who lays down his life for his sheep” (v.11), Jesus compares himself to the “hired man” (v.12) – the Scribes and Pharisees who have deviated from the way of God and worse, led many astray. Within a pastoral context where wolves, lions and robbers are real threats to a shepherd's flock, the true shepherd is one who would defend his sheep with his life. Jesus is such a true shepherd who has shed his blood for us on the cross so that we can have life in its fullness.
Israel has long regarded God as her shepherd. Psalm 23 captures this idea most clearly, “The Lord is my shepherd...Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me” (Ps. 23:1,4). God's closeness and watchfulness over his flock is more fully emphasised in Ezekiel. “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep...I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over” (Ezekiel 34:13, 15-16)
God's compassion for the “lost”, “strayed”, “crippled” and “weak” among his flock is more fully developed in the parable of the lost sheep. The ardent love of the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the fold to go out in search for the one lost sheep. When found, this sheep is joyfully lifted upon his shoulders and brought home. This is the kind of personal love that God has for each one of us. This intimate belonging to God is made firm in baptism – a sacrament of the church that has come from Jesus' death and resurrection. St. John today reminds us of this great privilege that has come to us through Jesus, “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God's children” (v.1).
Today's gospel on the Good Shepherd is the reason why this fourth Sunday of Easter is also called Good Shepherd Sunday and it is a day to pray for vocations. In giving Peter the mandate to “feed my sheep”, Jesus makes clear that he has chosen human shepherds to lead his flock of believers within the church. Although the church today is governed by human shepherds (pope, bishops, priests), the great mystery is that we are all unfailingly nourished and led by Christ himself (CCC754).
Today's liturgy assures us in a most loving way that whether we come to church today as “lost”, “crippled”, “weak”, “fat” or “strong” sheep, Jesus our Good Shepherd continues his work of watching over and protecting us. He touches us most intimately in the sacraments. Let us be attentive to his presence and allow him to lead us towards the green pastures of a good and holy life.
SFX Bulletin, 29 April 2012