Second Sunday After Easter
The Good Shepherd
By Rev. H. G. Hughes
There are many names and titles given in Holy Scripture to our Divine Lord to express the many relations in which He stands towards us.
The holy Name of Jesus, at which all in heaven and earth must bow down, and the powers of hell tremble, sums up in one blessed word all that He ahs done for us. Truly, “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we can be saved.” In that holy Name of Jesus is all our hope for time and for eternity In the Old Testament our Lord is called the Messiah, “He that shall be sent.” There, too, we find the name Emmanuel, “God with us,” the name of Him whose delights are to be with the children of men.
Both in the Old and New Testaments He is called Prophet, Priest, and King: the Prophet who teaches us, the Priest who sacrifices Himself for our redemption, the King who, having triumphed over all the powers of evil, reigns forever over His redeemed.
Again, He calls Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Way, by whom we come to the Father, the Truth, the very Truth Himself, who hath the words of Eternal life; the Life who gives us life, the supernatural life of grace, which is a participation of His own Divine life.
He is the Vine, also, and we are the branches. Abiding in Him and united to Him we can work the works of God; cut off from Him we are dead branches, fit only for the fire.
But, after the most holy and adorable Name of Jesus, there is perhaps no other designation, by which our blessed Lord is called in Holy Scripture, more consoling or more enlightening in what it tells us of His living active relations with us and ours with Him, than that which He gives Himself in the Gospel read to-day – calling Himself the Good Shepherd.
To appreciate fully the pregnant meaning of this description of Himself by our Divine Master, we must go back to the beginning of that chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the tenth, from which the passage read to-day in the Holy Mass is taken, for all of the first half of the chapter is a beautiful and most significant parable, drawn from the scenes of Eastern shepherd life familiar with childhood to those who listened to our blessed Lord – scenes, too, which can be witnessed to this day practically unchanged in the Holy Land.
Our Divine Lord begins by contrasting the true shepherd with those thieves and robbers who so frequently attacked a sheep-fold, climbing over the stone wall or palisade which always surrounded it, as a defense against both wild beasts and human enemies.
“Amen, Amen, I say to you: He that enters not by the door of the sheepfold, but climbs up another way – the same is a thief and a robber. But he that enters in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the portals opens – and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. And when he has let out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice.
But a stranger they follow not, but fly from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.”
The contrast here, brethren, is between the authorized shepherd of the sheep, who enters openly by the door of the sheepfold, and a secret robber, entering in by stealth. Our Blessed Lord’s hearers do not fully understand what He means; there He Himself makes the application of the parable for them.
“I am the door of the sheep – all others, as many have come, are thieves and robbers; and the sheep heard them not.
I am the door: By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved: and he shall go in, and go out, and shall find pastures.”
I need not comment upon this – it is the same lesson that our Lord teaches when he says: “I am the Way” – no man cometh to the Father but by Me.
Then our Lord goes on to another comparison – the one with which the Gospel of this day is concerned – contrasting the good and faithful shepherd, whose own the sheep are, who has therefore a real personal interest in their welfare, not only now with thieves and robbers, but with hireling shepherds, whose own the sheep are not, and whose interest is restricted to the pay they receive for their hired labor.
“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, to kill, and to destroy. I am come that they (i.e., the sheep) may have life, and may have it more abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep. But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters the sheep. . . . I am the Good Shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know Me, as the Father knows Me and I know the Father: and I lay down my life for my sheep.”
In illustration of our Blessed Lord’s meaning, let me quote to you the words of a modern traveler in Palestine, recounting scenes that he himself witnessed. He is on the banks of a river; and a shepherd is about to lead his flock across. “Observe,” he writes, “that as our Lord says of the Good Shepherd – this Eastern shepherd goes before, and the sheep follow. Not all in the same manner, however. Some enter boldly, and come straight across. These are the faithful ones of the flock, who keep hard by the footsteps of the shepherd, whether sauntering through green meadows by the still waters, feeding upon the mountains, or resting at noon beneath the shadow of great rocks. And now others enter, but in doubt and alarm. Far from their guide, they miss the ford and are carried down the river, some more some less; and yet, one by one, the struggle over and make a safe landing.”
“I notice that some of the flock keep near the shepherd, and follow wherever he goes, without the least hesitation; while others stray about on either side, or loiter far behind; and he often turns and scolds them in a sharp, stern cry. Many adventures with wild beasts occur, for, though there are now no lions here, there are wolves in abundance; and leopards and panthers, exceeding fierce, prowl about these wild districts. They not infrequently attack the flock in the very presence of the shepherd, and he must be ready to do battle at a moment’s warning.”
And again: “It is necessary that the sheep be taught to follow, and not to stray away into the unfenced fields of corn which lie so temptingly on either side. Any one that thus wanders is sure to get into trouble. The shepherd calls sharply from time to time, to remind them of his presence. They know his voice, and follow on; but if a stranger call, they stop short, lift up their head in alarm, and, if it is repeated, they turn and flee, because they know not the voice of a stranger.” “This” – says the author I am quoting – “is not the fanciful costume of a parable; it is simple fact. I have made the experiment repeatedly. The shepherd goes before, not merely to point the way, but to see that it is practicable and safe. He is armed in order to defend his charge, and in this he is very courageous. And when the thief and the robber come (and come they do), the faithful shepherd has often to put his life in his hand to defend his flock. I have known more than one case in which he had literally to lay it down in the contest.”
In the same passage this author tells how he has seen the shepherd carrying out in every description the actions foretold by the prophet Isaias concerning our Divine Lord: “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather together the lambs with His arm, and shall take them upon His bosom, and He himself shall carry those that are with young” (Isaias xi, II). The above quotations are from Thomson’s “The Land and the Book.”
“I am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine, and mine know Me. Come to Me, all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Come to Me, Christ says, who am the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls; and I will lead you, I will protect you, I will feed you, I will care for you.
“Have I not laid down My Life for you, and for you taken it up again, and for you have gone up gloriously into heaven, having led captivity captive, and obtained gifts for men? And I am still your shepherd, and you are the sheep of My pasture.”
In very deed and truth, dear brethren, our blessed Lord is to us all that the Shepherd in those eastern lands is to his flock. And Christ’s pastoral care is exercised in two ways: visibly and invisibly. As God invisible, He is our loving Shepherd; and there is no place where He is not; no place where His power cannot reach, where His love cannot penetrate, where His tender care cannot be felt and known. Thus, invisibly, He leads and guides us by His Holy Spirit, defends us by His Providence, feeds us in the pastures of life by His holy grace.
But visibly, too, and palpably, in a way we can experience even with our senses, He is our Shepherd. He Himself has gone up to heaven, but He has left those who take His place, through whom He Himself works and acts; and He has left a visible fold in which His flock is gathered. That fold is His holy Church; and those whom He has left to take His place, those whose work is His work since He works through then, are the pastors of the Church, who carry out in His name, by His power, with His authority, all the loving duties of the Good Shepherd. And to one of these, the chief pastor, He has said, “Feed My lambs, feed My sheep.” And speaking of the Gentiles, “Other sheep I have that are not of this fold; these also must I bring, and they shall hear My voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd” (St. John x, 16).
Christ’s words have been fulfilled; the Gentiles have been gathered in, and there is one fold, one shepherd, one fold of Christ’s holy Catholic Church, one shepherd, of the whole flock, the successor him to whom Christ first said: “Feed My lambs; feed My sheep.”
One shepherd for this reason also, that the pastoral office of Peer and his successors, and of those who work with them and in subordination to them, the bishops and priests of the Catholic Church, is not another pastoral office from that of Christ Himself, but the same; a participation of Christ’s own priesthood and pastorate. In the Catholic Church and the Catholic Church only, is Christ’s pastoral office exercised in all its fullness; in that Church it is our blessed privilege to be the sheep of His pasture. It is for us to correspond to this truly inestimable grace. Of His own sheep Christ said: “I know Mine, and Mine know Me.” We must take care to know Him, our true Shepherd, who gave His life for us. We must keep close to Him, not wandering from the path; we must listen to Him, observant of His warning voice; not straying after the poisonous food of false doctrine or false worldly principles; obedient to His Church; seeking in the Sacraments the true food of eternal life; walking, through good and ill, in His footsteps, and if, alas, we have been as sheep going astray, we must come back quickly to Him, the Shepherd and bishop of our souls.