The liturgy calendar has always provided us with three series of readings for Sunday: A, B and C, each meant to be read in different years so that we would not have the same reading on the same Sunday every year. However, on the fourth Sunday of Easter, all gospels are the same; they are the gospel about the Good Shepherd. That is why so many of us also call: today “Good Shepherd Sunday”. On this Sunday, as you may remember, the students who are studying for the priesthood from Corpus Christi Seminary, Melbourne, would be sent out to the various parishes in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Seminarians share with us their personal encounters and help us to relate to the message of the Gospel about the Good Shepherd. Unfortunately, not during this time of restrictions. However, it does not mean that we cannot relate to the message of the Gospel.
Today, the Gospel invites us to reflect upon the image and reality that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. The message of God’s love for the world, the Shepherd who guards his sheep or animals with love, care and compassion.
According to the Gospel’s narrative, the people at Jesus’ time, could not understand the image of the Messiah as the gentle Shepherd. Perhaps it is because they expected the Messiah to be a warrior king, a person specializing in combat or warfare, who delivering them from their enemies.
However, the prophets in the OT described the Shepherd as the suffering servant, a bruised reed, and time and time again, rescuing people from slavery in Egypt, from hunger and thirst in the desert and delivered them into the land of milk and honey.
The image of God the Father as a loving Shepherd is continued by Jesus throughout the Gospels. Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), the love and mercy of God in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), spends His time healing the sick, promises paradise to the thief on the cross (Luke. 23:39-43). Like Father, like Son.
Traditionally, the metaphor of the Good Shepherd is often centred on the Pope, bishops, priests, religious men and women, and the people of God who have dedicated their lives or given up their lives in spreading the Good News and comforting the sick, the lonely and the outcast. During this Covid 19 virus, the image of Good Shepherd has become so prominent by over 100 priests who gave up their lives in this battlefield. Especially, the image of a Catholic priest reportedly died from the COVID-19 coronavirus after refusing a ventilator so that a younger patient could use it instead. Fr. Don Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, died on March 15 at a hospital in Lovere, Italy. The Shepherd of the Church is called to shepherd God’s people with the heart of Christ, to know people, to lead them, to feed them, to love them, and indeed to lay down their lives for them.
In addition, with the metaphor of Good Shepherd in the Church setting and thinking of this Gospel during this challenging time, could I offer you another image of the Good Shepherd?
There are so many leaders, medical practitioners, hospital cleaners, supply workers who have been dedicating their energies and risking their lives in providing service for one another; or the teacher such as teachers at our OLGC School who have been coming to school during this time and providing education to our children; and parents, husbands, wives who have been wonderful in looking after the family and household during this difficult time. For me, they are the true and genuine Shepherds. Their love, care and compassion reflect strongly the image of the Good Shepherd who comes to lay down his life for his people.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, let us pray not only for our local Shepherds but also remember the active Shepherds who are fighting with this virus to keep us safe. Once again, let us reform our faith in Psalm 23 ‘The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing, I shall want….’