Now that we have made our way to the fourth Sunday of Easter, we begin to read Scripture readings that account for the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, which help us to know Jesus by more than just the events of His life. In chapter 10 of John’s Gospel, we hear the image of the shepherd referred to in the person of Jesus. There is a difference between a hired shepherd, who is tending the flock for money, and a shepherd who is tending the flock out of love and dedication.
The difference between those two is significant. A hired shepherd might tend to be more of a minimalist, meaning if any true sacrifice is necessary or any great danger appears, the hireling might run or be absent. A shepherd who is in it for the money might not even take time to notice individual members of the flock as much as counting to make sure that the number remains the same. One who is in it for the money might not think that it’s a great loss if one or two sheep are lost or killed. He or she might consider it what we would call today allotted shortage or loss. There might be a little personal investment in the job and less attentiveness to the flock.
A shepherd who embraces the job as a vocation is one who goes beyond the minimum, gets to know each member of the flock in a personal way and is willing to lay down his or her life for the sake of each individual member of the flock. When it comes to going the extra mile or seeking out the lost, the true shepherd is not only willing to do that in a begrudging way, but is willing to do it wholeheartedly and with love. The true shepherd shows commitment, fidelity and heartfelt compassion for each and every member of the flock no matter what their behavior.
As you have experienced in your own life, love begets love. When we give ourselves to others in fidelity and compassion, we are able to see more clearly into the life of another and understand more deeply the joys and sorrows of each and every person to whom we have given that gift. The season of Easter is leading us toward Pentecost. We celebrate in that feast the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all those gathered in that back room out of fear. In that room, there were very few if any true shepherds. They had given themselves over to fear and doubt, disillusionment and anxiety. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, they noticed that they were given gifts that allowed them to do what they were afraid they could never do. At this point in the Easter season, are you noticing where you are still locked up out of fear, even though you know that Jesus has been raised from the dead? When you hear in the Scriptures this weekend that you are a child of God, does that give you freedom or does that create anxiety that makes you want to hide? What will it take for you to experience the freedom that is the gift given to us out of love by our shepherd?
The feast of Pentecost is about a month away. Instead of simply resting in the fact that Lent is over and Easter is finished, let’s continue to walk this journey with Jesus and allow Him to appear to us as we experience our disillusionment, disappointment and fear. There are so many ways we are still afraid, even though we are so blessed and we have been given the gift of faith that allows us to know Jesus, the great shepherd. This time between Easter and Pentecost is meant to be a season of working toward fearlessness and boldness.
As a child of God, it is our privilege to give a witness to the assistance that God gives us to live miraculous lives. Notice the opportunities that you get in each day to bring about small and large resurrections in your life and in others. Just like the apostles in the reading from Acts, we will be asked to attest to the power by which we live. Will we sheepishly say thank you and not take the opportunity to attest to the power of Jesus in our lives? Take every opportunity you are given this week to answer the question, “by whose power do you do what you do?” Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is committed to you for all eternity. Live out that freedom Jesus gives you and give Him the glory.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.