On the Sundays of the Easter Season, in place of an Old Testament Scripture, the First Reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. There is a certain wisdom in sharing the story of the Church in its’ infancy as it quickly matures and becomes the apostolic arm of the Risen Lord Jesus in the world. On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, a day set aside to recall the ancient title of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, perhaps a recalling of the challenging words of the Old Testament Prophet Ezekiel (34: 3-6,11, 14-16) might bring about another perspective on the role of shepherd, particularly a “good shepherd,” that should not be lost upon us especially today:
You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered their fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bound up the injured. You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but your lorded it over them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered and wandered over all the mountains and high hills; my sheep were scattered over the whole earth, with no one to look after them or to search for them.
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. In good pastures will I pasture them, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing ground. There they shall lie down on good grazing ground, and in rich pastures shall they be pastured on the mountains of Israel. I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, shepherding them rightly.
So often in human experience, where sinful attitudes can run unchecked, the role of the shepherd can be reduced to simply a “harvester” of produce provided by the sheep. The true and good shepherd is the one who is the caretaker, custodian, and protector of the flock entrusted to his/her hands. In this age of the Church, we recognize the unique paradox that sheep actually become shepherds! Following the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we know that He (and in turn we) must love and nurture the flock, lay down our lives for the flock, and never abuse or simply take advantage of it!
As the Benedictine monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey will sing on this day, “O Jesus gentle shepherd and Living Bread, feed us, guide us to the land of everlasting life!”