4th Sunday of Easter Lectio Divina April 25, 2021
Jesus said: “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. 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.”
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
Christ’s ministry was part of his mission, and his mission was to die for our sins. If we listen closely, we notice how all of his teachings point to this sacrifice. His teachings are about dying to ourselves, and being willing to give up everything for the kingdom of God. We cannot understand the analogy of the good shepherd unless we perceive how the love Christ is calling us to is an unconditional, sacrificial love.
A hired shepherd … sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away
“That’s above my paygrade” is a common expression used among those who value their pay more than their work. It’s not to say those who use that expression don’t value their work at all. However, there is an important distinction between the love of our everyday work itself, and the wages we expect to earn. Within the work itself, God can be found. So the work of the good shepherd embodies a philosophy we can all adopt in our own work as well. When we love what we do, we tend to also love those for whom we do it--or at least we ought to. The good shepherd can be seen as one who loves his sheep, but also as one who loves the field, the open air, and the God who created them. Thus when the wolf comes, he fights to defend that which he loves. When the wolves come in our everyday work, will we say that defending against them is “above our paygrade” or will we see it as an opportunity to prove the love we have for what we do and for whom we do it?
I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me
A tech guru came upon a field with sheep and a shepherd. He pulled up to the field in his car and said to the shepherd, “If I can tell you exactly how many sheep are in this field, will you give them to me?” The shepherd said, “Sure.” So the tech guru took out his smartphone and opened up an app that surveyed the field via satellite, and calculated the number of sheep in it. He then told the shepherd, “You have 267 sheep.” The shepherd then told him, “That is correct. Very good.” With a smirk the tech guru started to try and coral the sheep, but was struggling greatly to do so. Then the shepherd told him, “If you want them to come to you, you need to call them each by name.”
Whether you’ve heard of that story or not, the lesson in it is clear. A good shepherd, or a good caregiver for any type of animal for that matter, has an actual relationship with the animals under his supervision. Jesus drives home this point even more strongly, because he says the good shepherd should even be willing to put himself in harm’s way for his sheep. A good shepherd is an archetype for meekness and humility. Even though he has a very modest job, at times it requires serious devotion. Also, it’s a job that requires much more attention than someone from the outside may at first assume. The good shepherd is such a good analogy for who God is, because those who follow God recognize his voice just as a sheep recognizes that of its shepherd. They’re not going to follow a stranger, because a stranger hasn’t proven that he will lay down his life for them. The sheep will follow the one who leads them by his example.
This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
At first this Gospel reading may seem out of place for the Easter Season. After all, we just read about Christ’s resurrection, and now we’re going back to his ministry and teachings. But when Christ talks about laying down his life in order to take it up again, hopefully we see the connection between the good shepherd passage and Easter. Christ laying down his life is the necessary prerequisite to his bringing us to new life in him. No servant is better than his master, so if he had to die to bring us to new life, we also need to die to ourselves. Again, this is a consistent teaching of Christ. His ministry cannot be understood outside his death and resurrection. Nor can his death and resurrection be understood outside his teaching. So it’s good for the Church to bring us back to his teachings as a reminder, while we still may be reveling in the joy of the Easter season. It’s good to keep that joy of resurrection present in our minds this time of year, but that joy can be all the sweeter if we remember the journey we all struggled through to get here. Also, just because we are enjoying the high from resurrected life in Christ doesn’t mean we don’t have to keep laying down our lives every day. In fact, every day is a cycle of laying down our lives and rising to new life. Every day the Lord gives us a chance to start afresh.
there will be one flock, one shepherd
Christ wants all who believe in him to be united. The Church is always working toward this unity, and any cause that fosters further division is not part of its mission. Any division among those who believe in him must come from the devil. This does not, however, mean that we must bring non-believers into the fold. Those who do not believe do not recognize Christ’s voice, and therefore would breed dissonance and confusion among the flock. When Christ calls us to communion, he is also calling us to transformation. Only God knows when all believers in Christ will truly become one flock, but we can all pray and work toward that unity. One way we can work toward it is by looking at ourselves to see if there are any ways that we promote division among those who love Christ.
Lord, thank you for inviting us to new life every day. The abundance of your mercy flows down to us like the melting snow from the mountains. It washes away our sins if we simply choose to be forgiven. This choice to accept your mercy has to be an everyday choice, though. Help us to wake up everyday like the good shepherd, recognizing the tasks that you gave us and realizing that they may require sacrifices from us. Give us the grace and courage to face those sacrifices with faith in you.
There is no passion greater than the love of the one willing to lay down his life for the ones he loves. The world may claim that romantic love is the strongest, and it could be if it’s sacrificial like Christ’s love for us. But let’s not forget the way God loves us. Take some time to think of the ways God has loved you like a good shepherd in your life.
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