Yesterday was “Good Shepherd Sunday,” but it wasn’t until today’s Lectionary that Jesus identifies as such. Yesterday, the fourth Sunday of Easter in cycle A, Jesus tells us he is the Gate. The way in. The way out. And the watchful presence that protects us.
In the Lectionary for the care for people who are sick and dying, Jesus offers more intimate counsel. He reveals himself to be more than an Old Testament “object” (Gate, Law, Rock, Path) as well as more than a living thing (such as a Lion or a Flower). Jesus affirms he is a person who cares for us:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay
and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Jesus seems to be offering himself as a counter-example to the “shepherds of Israel” so bitterly criticized by the prophet Ezekiel (34:1-10) If Saint Matthew suggests Jesus as a new lawgiver, Saint John would appear to frame the Lord’s teaching as a fulfillment of the prophetic tradition. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to rescue and heal his people. Verse 16 of that parable of the shepherds “The lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, and the sick I will heal …” speaks directly to the plight of many seriously ill people. A person in dire circumstances may not benefit from the full Bible Study, and the link to Ezekiel, but there is comfort in knowing some aspects of the Word here.
First, if a person has been mistreated, injured, or harmed through negligence or violence, the Lord is prepared to accompany her or him. Jesus’ relationship is personal, and since he himself has known injustice and maltreatment, we have an ally who identifies with us. Jesus identifies not only because of some quality of divine all-knowing. Jesus has walked our way, and has experienced it in his person.
The witness as Good Shepherd looks to the future:
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life
in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me,
but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down,
and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”
In light of Ezekiel and the Passion, we know the Lord retains ultimate control. If we feel we are losing it because of infirmity, injury, or even impending death, we might recognize we can tap into the Lord’s serenity and sense of a larger, greater future.
Or, a pastoral minister can walk simply in this Scripture. Jesus is our shepherd. He cares for us as we care for the weak among us, even our pets.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.