By V. Rev. Jeffrey Kirch, C.PP.S.
There seems to be an overarching theme in the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter. In one way or another the image of sheep comes up in the readings. In the Psalm we sing that “We are his people, the sheep of his flock.” In the second reading, from the book of Revelation, the Lamb is worshipped. The alleluia verse references Jesus as the Good Shepherd. And finally in the Gospel, Jesus declares that his sheep will hear his voice and he will give them eternal life.
Sheep, shepherds, lambs and flocks are common images that we encounter in the scriptures. When we try to make sense of the imagery we often concentrate on how we are the sheep and that we follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd. That is a standard interpretation and is true to the meaning of the Scripture. Too often when we think about the Shepherd and sheep, we concentrate on how the sheep just need to follow the Shepherd. Where ever the Shepherd goes the sheep follow. Sometimes blindly follow. We often think of the sheep as being passive creatures.
But I think our readings today are asking us to go deeper than just the standard Shepherd and sheep interpretation. The readings are not asking us to blindly follow the Shepherd. Instead, the readings highlight how we are to be in relationship with the Shepherd. In the Gospel, Jesus says that he knows his sheep and gives them eternal life. To know someone is to be in relationship with them. Our second reading from the book of Revelation upends the common image of Jesus as the Shepherd and us as the sheep. In this reading Jesus is the Lamb that will shelter us, the Lamb that will shepherd us to life-giving water, and the Lamb that will wipe away every tear from our eyes. The message here is not one of blindly following a shepherd, but of connecting with the Lamb at a deep level. This is evidenced in the washing of the robes in the Blood of the Lamb. The Blood of the Lamb speaks eloquently of the bond between Christ and we his people.
When we face challenges in our lives, challenges similar to what Paul and Barnabas faced in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we turn to that unbreakable bond with have with Christ. This new covenant sealed with the Blood of the Lamb is what supports us when our lives are turned upside down and we cannot seem to put things right. It is then that we hear the Shepherd’s voice reminding us that he is there. He has not abandoned us. No one can take us from his hand. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are blessed to be in relationship with him.
The V. Rev. Jeffrey Kirch, C.PP.S., is the provincial director of the Cincinnati Province.