The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home
April 25, 2021 – Fourth Sunday of Easter - John 10:11-18
Download this simple process to Prepare for Sunday using the Observe, Judge, Act Method.
Sheepherding was a dangerous occupation in the time of Jesus. There were no fences to keep sheep safe. The shepherd had to be “on duty” round the clock. At any time of the day or night wolves (and sheep robbers) could steel precious sheep, who were often the means of livelihood and survival for many families. Thus, when Jesus talked about shepherds and sheep, all his listeners knew exactly what he was describing. Good shepherds literally needed to give their time, most all of it, to caring for and protecting their sheep.
He noted that “a good shepherd” is one who would “lay down his life for his sheep.” Of course, his reference is a universal one, not limited just to that occupation. So while it directly applied only to shepherds (which may today be 0.000001 of the population), it was intended for all of us. Laying down our lives for the care and protection of others touches the lives of all.
This teaching of Jesus can be difficult in a culture which often values a “me first” approach to decision-making or to individuals who care primarily for themselves. Their interest in others only relates to what others can do for them. We call such people self-centered, narcissistic and egotists. The opposite of this orientation is called altruism, self-sacrifice and generous love. The Sermon on the Mount and the discourse of Jesus at the Last Supper describe this positive attitude in detail.
What most struck me about this Sunday’s gospel were the words, “lays down his life.” This is very challenging because it is clearly not an invitation to mediocrity or partiality. It’s not a call to be only a fair-weather follower of Jesus. It’s a call for radical discipleship. If you give your life for someone, it affects every aspect of your life. Everything.
No one knows this more clearly than parents, especially if they are parents of children with special needs. Rightfully, we honor such parents for their dedication and love, especially when the need for their care is constant and unending. How much they give up to care for their children is known only by them. But it is an immense gift, to be sure.
Today, we can also add those who are giving their time, their energy, their very lives to caring for victims of the pandemic. And those who are ready to give their all as first responders to accidents and various kinds of tragedies. There are many “good shepherds” among us. One question worth asking ourselves: Am I one of them?
©David M. Thomas, PhD