Today's readings are found here, but the Gospel reading today bears repeating on these pages:
Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one can shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (Jn 10, 27-30 RSV-CE)From this Gospel passage, today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. But, the imagery of the Good Shepherd is not new to believers of Jesus' day. In fact, Jesus is reaching back to the imagery of the Prophet Ezekiel to describe the grace of the Lord's love that flows abundantly for all:
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will watch over; I will feed them in justice. (Ezek 34, 15-16 RSV-CE)This is powerful stuff. Notice that there is no justification necessary to receive the love of the Good Shepherd. There is no call for us to rummuge around in ourselves to find that piece of ourselves that is worthy of the Lord's love. Indeed, the love of the Lord is spilled out on us in abundance not because of what we have in our interior, but because of our exterior--we are created in His image and out of His love. We are worthy of the love of God because we are loved by Him.
I have heard it expressed this way: there is no need for us to get our act together to be loved by God. Even in our brokenness, our sinfulness, and our failings, the Lord's love still seeks us out and desires to provide us the nourishment that we need through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the the sacraments of the Church made available to us all, through which we each have the opportunity to receive God's grace.
Jesus the Good Shepherd will seek out the sheep that are lost. He will bring back those sheep that have strayed. The sheep that have been crippled and wounded by sin will have their wounds bound and healed by His love. The weak of the flock will be strengthened by Him. And, He will watch over the fat and the strong. None stray from His gaze, and none of the sheep can be snatched from His hands, as none can be snatched from the Father.
In this most beautiful imagery we find that none of us can be taken from the love of God. No matter what we do--no matter what--we are still the beloved of our Creator. We are still the sheep of the Lord's flock for which His love is never ending.
That is why Jesus says: "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish . . . ." As the Good Shepherd who loves His sheep, Jesus has laid down His life for us His sheep, to give us all eternal life with Him in the resurrection. Remember, we can never get too big for the love of God. Jesus' love and His redemption are sufficient to save us all, if we but follow Him, our Good Shepherd.
IMAGE: A third century catacomb painting of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.