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Sunday Scripture: The Good Shepherd at work

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

By Father Timothy Schehr

Fourth Sunday of Easter: Acts 13:14, 43-52; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:27-30

Here’s a good Bible question to think about: What image for God is so popular we find it in the Bible from beginning to end? The answer: God as Shepherd.
 
The second reading for this Sunday comes from the Book of Revelation. In that reading John sees a vision in which God shepherds the faithful to waters of life. Revelation is, of course, the very last book of the Bible. And if we go all the way back to Genesis we will find Jacob speaking of God the Shepherd as he blesses his son Joseph (Genesis 49:24).


 
The kings of the ancient world were proud to carry the title “shepherd.” The title represented the king as an ideal example of leadership. Ideally, kings should watch over their subjects, caring for them and leading them to better places. If the title shepherd is fitting for mortal kings, it is all the more fitting as a title for the Divine King.

But let’s go back to the reading from Revelation. John’s vision includes a fascinating twist on the image of shepherd. In his vision the Lamb of God is the one who does the shepherding. We might have thought it should be the other way around. Someone should be shepherding the Lamb. But this Lamb needs no protection. This Lamb is the Risen Lord who has won the victory over death.
 
John says of Him “you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

With the Revelation text for this Sunday we are at a very dramatic point in the book. The Lamb of God is breaking open the seven seals of the scroll revealing God’s saving plan for the world. Just one more seal is still unbroken. But first John sees all the saints standing before the throne of God and the whole court of heaven is singing songs of joy for all the wonderful things God is doing. If this reading sounds a little a familiar, it is because we hear it every year on the feast of All Saints.

The shepherding theme of this Revelation reading comes back again in the Gospel. We hear Jesus speak of himself as the Good Shepherd. His sheep know His voice. He knows His sheep; they follow Him. But Jesus is leading His sheep to something much more inviting than green pastures. Jesus is leading them to eternal life.

No one can take the Lord’s sheep out of His hand. If His sheep are following His lead they will be safe. This is clearly demonstrated later in the Gospel when Jesus goes after His wandering sheep to bring them back to safety. The apostle Thomas wandered off in doubt; Jesus brought him back. The apostle Peter wandered off in denials; Jesus brought him back, too.

In the first reading Paul and Barnabas show themselves to be good shepherds too. They are in a place called Antioch along the main east-west Roman road through the country we know today as Turkey. They are in a local synagogue and are invited to address the congregation.  They preach first to God’s chosen people, and then they announce that God’s saving plan also included people from all the nations.
 
This message meets with resistance. But Paul and Barnabas are not discouraged. Instead they are filled “with joy and the Holy Spirit.” They continue along the Roman road to the next town. They know the Good Shepherd will see to the rest.

Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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