On this fourth Sunday of Easter, we turn a corner of sorts. Up until now we have been reading of the resurrection appearances themselves. Today we begin to see how the risen Lord ministers to us as the Good Shepherd. In effect, the Lord gives us four basic pictures or teachings of how, as the King of Love, He shepherds us. Here, then, are four portraits of His love:
I. Passionate love – Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd, a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Purely gratuitous love is a hard thing to come by in human relationships. In one sense we are too needy to be able to give it purely. In another sense our motives tend to be a mixture of self-love and love of the other. This is our human condition, and few of us rise above it in a consistent way.
But Jesus loves us purely, gratuitously, and for our own sake. His love is passionate in the sense that it is sacrificial. He lays down His life for us, doing it though we are still sinners and often alienated from Him. He dies for us though we cursed, mocked, and ridiculed Him. He loves us and lays down His life for us though He gets nothing out of it.
Hired shepherds, on the other hand, work for pay; above all else they seek their own good. When there is a danger to the sheep, hired shepherds will not risk themselves to rescue the sheep. Theirs is a service based on pay; it is subordinated to their own needs and safety.
Only one Shepherd died for you. In this world there are many politicians, musicians, movie stars, and organizations that seek our loyalty, our votes, our membership, and our dues. They also make us promises in return, even as they want to influence us and exercise leadership over us. None of this is necessarily wrong. People form relationships and seek leaders for any number of reasons. But note this important difference: none of these leaders or “shepherds” ever died for you. Only Jesus died for you.
There remains this problem: many Christians have greater loyalty to political leaders, musicians, movies stars, and the like than to Jesus Christ. Too many people tuck their faith under their politics, giving greater credence to what popular figures say than to what Jesus says in His Word and through His Church.
Only Jesus died for you. Human beings too easily bring along their own needs and agendas. Only Jesus Christ loves you perfectly; only He died for you. Only He is deserving of the role of Chief Shepherd of your life.
II. Personal love – Jesus says, I know my sheep and mine know me. No one knows you the way Jesus Christ does, because He knew you before He ever formed you in your mother’s womb (cf Jer 1:4). He has always thought about you; He created you; He knit you together in your mother’s womb and every one of your days was written in His book before one of them ever came to be (cf Ps 139).
You’ve never been unloved. No matter what you think you may have done to cancel His love, He knew you would do it before He ever made you—and yet still He made you. Do not doubt His love for you or that He knows you better than you know yourself.
An old hymn says,
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.
Jesus also says that His sheep know Him. And that is both our invitation and our call. We often like to quote the 23rd Psalm “The Lord is my Shepherd.” But this is not a slogan, nor is it merely a psalm of consolation. It is a psalm of confession: that I am one of the Lord’s sheep. The Lord says, “My sheep know me.” He does not say that we merely know about Him.
Do you know Him? To be in the Lord’s flock is to be in a life-changing, transformative relationship with the Lord. To know the Lord is to see our life changed by that very relationship. It is to know the voice of Jesus and be able to distinguish it from others. As Jesus says elsewhere: [The Shepherd] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (John 10:3-5). Are you smarter than a sheep? Do you run from other voices contrary to Jesus?
Now be very careful as well for many today have wanted to remake and refashion the true Jesus of Scripture and thereby distort his voice. On of the most common ways this is done is to screen our his less pleasant teachings such as when he warns (alot) about judgment and hell or says “woe.” Another was is to set up a false dichotomy between the Gospels and the Epistles. And thus it is often said that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, etc. Yes, he did, in numerous places, through his apostles whom he commissioned to speak in his name. He said to them, “He who hears you hears me.” Further never wrote a book or a word. He entrusted his entire teaching to his apostles to preach, teach and write in his name.
The Gospels and epistles have the same level of authority and are inspired and authored by the same Holy Spirit. To say that Jesus never said something but only Paul (or James or John or Peter) is to set up a false dichotomy. To hear an apostle speak in either the Gospel (for the apostles and evangelists wrote the Gospels) or the epistles is always to hear Jesus who said: Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me. (Luke 10:16) and also, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Be very careful therefore of those who try to distort the voice of Jesus by limiting it. The Apostles and Evangelists spoke for him in toto and Jesus continues to speak in the doctrinal teachings of the Church and the living voice of his magisterium which apply his word given through he apostles.
III. Persistent love – The Lord says, I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold, These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd. Jesus is not content merely to shepherd a few thousand Jewish disciples in the Holy Land. He wants His love to spread to the whole world. He wants to embrace and hold close everyone He has ever made. He wants to call every human person into a saving relationship.
Part of our journey as disciples, as sheep of the Lord, is to experience the call to evangelize. But that call will only take flight when Christ’s love for all people fills our heart.
Christ has a persistent love to embrace and hold everyone close to Him. Do you sense that love? He wants to draw others to Himself, through you. Many people leave the work of evangelizing and growing the flock to the priest. But shepherds don’t have sheep, sheep have sheep.
IV. Powerful love – Jesus says, I lay down my life, in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, I lay it down on my own. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again.
We see how Jesus does this for Himself. But as Lord and Shepherd of our life He does it for us, too. Our old self was crucified and died with Him. We have also risen with Him to new life. And this life is the totally new and transformed life that Christ died to give us.
He has the power to crucify our old and sinful self as well as the power to raise it up again. And it is not merely our old self that rises; it is a new and transformed humanity that the Lord takes up on our behalf. He has the ability to do this, for His love powerful.
I am a witness of this and I pray that you are as well. He has the power!
Thus, as King of Love, Jesus the Risen Lord shepherds us with a love that is passionate, personal, persistent, and powerful. No one loves you more than Jesus does, with His Father and the Holy Spirit. He is the King of Love and He is your Shepherd. Here is the final line of the beautiful hymn “The King of Love My Shepherd Is.”
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever.
Here is a performance of that hymn, one of my favorites. Its peaceful strains amount to a kind of musical onomatopoeia (a word, or in this case a song, that sounds like what it describes).
Here is an another magnificent musical onomatopoeia: