The second Sunday after Easter is called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The neophytes — those who were baptized on Holy Saturday — are encouraged to look upon upon themselves as sheep of the flock and to look upon Jesus as their Loving and Good Shepherd. Both the Epistle and the Gospel teach us the same lesson, which is not only for the neophytes, but for all the baptized.
Introit. Today’s Introit speaks of the beauty of creation: “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord, alleluia; by the word of the Lord were the heavens made, alleluia, alleluia.” The beautiful spring weather was certainly in the mind of whomever composed the propers of this Mass, as God’s goodness is doubly manifest in creation renewing itself in spring. But there is a deeper message. It is the Church’s ecstatic joy over the renewing of human nature that took place in Christ’s Resurrection. At this point in the liturgical year, we are focusing on Christs’ and our resurrected life. The rest of the propers speak to us of this supernaturally renewed life.
Epistle. It is wonderfully fitting that on Good Shepherd Sunday, the Church presents us the words of Jesus’ chosen Shepherd-Vicar. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but He commanded one man to feed his sheep, his yearlings, and his lambs. That man is the first Pope, St. Peter. “If you love me Simon bar Jona, feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” It is for this reason that St. Peter was called, in ancient times, “the Vicar of Christ’s Love.”
In his simple rustic style, St. Peter appeals to the faithful, especially those recently baptized, reminding them that they were once sheep who were astray. He portrays Christ to them as one who suffered for their sins that they might be converted and walk in his footsteps, following his example. One subtlety in the passage is that the First Pope is referencing Isaias 53, where the Prophet describes our being healed by Jesus’ stripes. Christ, according to Isaias, “shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer.” He will be the ultimate victim, who, without guile, is led to a painful death to atone for our sins. St. Peter speaks to the sheep of Christ, the Good Shepherd — who was the Lamb of God. St. Peter was shepherd of Christ’s flock, and the prince of bishops; therefore, it was most fitting that he would tell his flock, “For you were as sheep going astray: but you are now converted to the shepherd and bishop of your souls.”
Gospel. The sermon that St. John records in Chapter 10, wherein Our Lord calls Himself the Good Shepherd, comes immediately after Jesus cured the man born blind. The unbelieving Jews drove that man from the Synagogue, but the Good Shepherd welcomed him into his pastures, the Church. The placement of the sermon suggests that Our Lord is contrasting himself, the Good Shepherd, with the false shepherds who were ruling Israel in His day, who would not only cast out the man born blind, but also put our Lord to death and cast out all His disciples.
The Good Shepherd vs. the Hireling. Our Lord twice affirms, “I am the good shepherd.” In simple terms He explains what this means by contrasting his shepherding with the shepherding of the hireling, that is, men who are hired to shepherd the sheep, but to whom the sheep don’t really belong. The Good Shepherd gives his live for his sheep, but not the hireling: “the hireling flees when the wolf comes because he is a hireling and has no care for the sheep.” To fight wolves might be “above his pay grade,” or “not my job.” But to the good shepherd, who lovingly raised his flock, knowing each one from the time he was a lamb, to combat the wolf is a duty and to abandon his beloved flock to brutality is unthinkable.
Not only does the good shepherd lay down his life for his sheep, he knows them, each and every one, and they know him. This means a great deal when you consider the scriptural usage of the word “know.” “Knowledge” in scripture is not merely knowledge of facts, but in scripture, to “know” a person is to be his friend, his intimate; it is to love him. “Adam knew Eve and she brought forth her firstborn son.” Pharao “knew not Joseph” — not that Joseph was a stranger to him or someone whom he could not identify, but he did not like him.
“I Know Mine.” Our Lord, as God, knows from all eternity who they are who belong to his flock. He knows who is in the book of life. He enters into an intimate knowledge with them by grace and he recognizes them in the end as the sheep who are separated from the goats at the general judgment. The shepherd and the sheep really do know one another. In the Near East, when shepherds could very easily mix their flocks together, the shepherds would call their sheep and the sheep would recognize their master’s voice. Two flocks, from being gathered together in one, would go their separate ways following their shepherds. And a good shepherd could tell his sheep from the others, because, as we have said, he had raised each one himself. That is how Our Lord knows us, and that is how we are to know Our Lord.
“Mine Know Me.” Note that Our Lord says “mine know me.” Scripture speaks to us copiously of the value of our knowledge of Christ. St. Paul says “I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord…” (Philippians 3:8) And Our Lord Himself says: “This is Eternal Life, that they may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Saint Louis de Montfort, in his Love of Eternal Wisdom, says: “To know Jesus Christ, Eternal Wisdom, is to know enough; to know everything and not to know Him, is to know nothing.”
In light of this St. Peter’s denial was all the more terrible: “I know not the man.”
All those who are Our Lord’s, those who are in the book of life, know him. Hence, faith is necessary for salvation. But, as I said, the knowledge we are speaking of is a knowledge of love and intimacy: Therefore, charity is necessary for salvation too. This is a reaffirmation of our doctrine.
“My Voice.” Not only do they know Our Lord, all who are of His sheep fold know His Voice. That is, they recognize it when they hear it. And how does the Good Shepherd speak to us? Through His Church. His Shepherd Vicar, the Pope, carries His voice through the ages by the exercise of his infallible magisterium.
Alleluia Verses. The two Alleluia verses of today’s Mass are a masterpiece that teach us something important about our knowledge of Jesus. Our Lord’s words from today’s Gospel are juxtaposed against St. Luke’s words about the disciples on the way to Emmaus: “The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread.” And: “I am the good shepherd: and I know My sheep, and Mine know Me.” The lesson is that we know Jesus not only in his teachings, but in his very being as He gave it to us in the Blessed Eucharist. We know Him in the Mass. We recognize Him in the breaking of the bread.
“Other Sheep.” What are the “other sheep” Our Lord talks about today? Israel was God’s flock in the Old Testament. The Psalms tell us that God called David from shepherding sheep to shepherd Israel. Jesus comes as the Son of David to be Israel’s Shepherd, but also to call other sheep, and those other sheep are the gentiles. We, with Our Lady, the Apostles and the other Jewish members of the Church constitute the one flock of the Good Shepherd because we all hear Jesus’ Voice through the preaching of the Apostles and the teaching of the Church lead by the Vicar of the Man-God.
This Paschaltide, with Loving gratitude, let us all rejoice that we have been given the grace to know our Good Shepherd. Let us also pray for our shepherds, priests, bishops, and, above all, the Roman Pontiff, “the Vicar of Christ’s Love” — whom today the world hates more than ever.