Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Good Shepherd

In the last movement of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler’s 2nd symphany is found this solo: “O believe, you were not born in vain, you have not lived in vain/ you have not suffered in vain/ what has come into being, that must perish/what has perished must rise again./ cease from trembling/prepare to live!”

"Prepare to live." That is a wonderful description of the Christian life in the afterglow of Easter. "Prepare to live" is an apt summary of resurrection theology. "Prepare to live" is hope-filled and forward looking injunction for all of us.


These Sundays after Easter we are continuously confronted with the irreducible core of our faith, namely that Jesus died and rose from the dead.

in the first reading from Acts it is evident that this is what the apostles proclaimed and this is what animated the first Christian communities. It is that belief in the Resurrection that remains at the heart of our faith.

Easter faith is a faith in Jesus as a personal savior; a faith that compells the Christian to believe in Jesus, the Christ, as one whose words can be believed and whose deeds can be imitated. It is that same easter faith that becomes the criteria for authentic discipleship.

As St. Peter notes in today’s first reading: “Let all the peoples—the whole house of israel—know for certain that god has made both lord and Christ, this Jesus who was crucified.” And as he notes elsewhere, “there is no other name in the whole world by which you can be saved.”

And so it remains. As Christians we are called to stand before the world—in our time and space—as witnesses to the resurrection and as a sign that God lives. It is Easter faith that allows us to come to know Jesus, to experience the power of the resurrection and to serve as a vital force energizing the believer’s words, actions and relationships.

Easter faith also shows us the attitude with which we should live our life. That is to say, we should be a forward looking people; we should have a hope filled attitude as we go about living and experiencing the unique challenges that are each of ours.

The Resurrection and the evolution of the young Christian communities clearly illustrates that the past is not something to cling to. In St. Luke’s account of the reurrection we hear the words: “Do not seek the living among the dead. Jesus is not here, he has gone before you.”

Do not look for the vitality and relevance of your faith, the strength of your faith, in the past. Your image of god changes; your faith life evolves; your prayer life deepens; hence your understanding of the church should not be limited to your past experiences of it.

The American church is presently confronting challenges on multiple fronts. It is evolving and we must seek the hope-filled grace to change with it. We must make these graced/learning moments for all of us.

Easter tells us to look to the present not the past; look to the living, suffering community where jesus is active. Our focus should be the church of today that is being born anew and afresh with every celebration of easter, even amidst scandals and public policy debates. Our Easter faith thrusts us, hope filled, into the future.

Finally, the Easter Jesus teaches us how to live with confidence.

Jesuit Tony DeMello tells the story of an explorer who comes across a village in a remote mountainous spot. The people were very happy on their hilltop and in their village, which was surrounded by a high fence. The explorer believed that the people would be even more happy and more free if they took the fence down. So they did. And he went away.

A year later he returned only to find the people sad and lifeless. They were huddled together in the center of their mountain top village. For without the fence, they were afraid of falling of the edge of the cliff. With the fence gone, gone too, was their security and their sense of freedom.

The resurrection is the fence around the life of the Christian. You cannot fall off if you believe; the resurrection is our barrier against death and the incentive to live.

And that brings us to today’s gospel: the beautiful image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In that image is captured the essence of a god who is loving, caring, and faithful; a god who loves us, each of us, enough to die for us. That is a powerful testimony of jesus’ commitment to each of us.

The shepherd imagry is deeply rooted in biblical thought. God is the ultimate shepherd of the people, providing guidance, sustenance and protection; the kings, priests and leaders of israel were also to be shepherds of their people. And the designation ‘good’ for jesus contrasts with the frequent designation of unfaithful leaders in scripture as ‘bad’ shepherds, who abuse and neglect their flock.

But Jesus is different; “he has come to feed us, to protect us, to guide us and to love us.” Jesus assures us that just as the shepherd and sheep have a familiar relationship so jesus has an intimate bond with his followers. In this tender relationship we, too, have the opportunity to come to know jesus more deeply and to develop a deeper relationship.

Sometimes, in the midst of fear and sadness, it is extremely difficult to believe this. But what was offered to the fearful disciples (in the accounts of the past weeks), is offered to us today: boundles hope in the face of suffering, boundless confidence in the midst of turmoil, and boundless love in the midst of fear.

The Christ who rose on easter morning to astonish and comfort the disciples is the same Christ who is with us today in our own struggles, always offering us the easter miracle of hope.

As our opening prayer stated:

“…in faith we follow the call of the shepherd whom you have sent for our hope and strength. Attune our minds to the sound of his voice, and lead our steps in the path he has shown, that we may know the strength of his outstretched arm and enjoy the light of his presence forever.”

John Schlegel, S.J.

Corpus Christi Church, New York, N.Y.

April 29, 2012 

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