Celebrating the shepherd and guardian of our souls

By: By Msgr. Stuart Swetland

Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 11

Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 23:1-3a,3b-4,5,6; 1 Peter 2:20b-25; John 10:1-10

Happy Mother’s Day! In this month which is dedicated to honoring Mary, the mother of our Lord and the mother of all Christians, we give thanks and praise to God for the gift of our mothers and grandmothers who first taught us the meaning of self-sacrificial, unconditional love.

Today is also the Fourth Sunday of Easter, “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The readings remind us of an extremely common and important biblical theme: “The Lord is our shepherd” (Psalm 23). As the brilliant Scottish biblical scholar William Barclay has demonstrated in his commentary on John, this theme is found throughout both the Old and the New Testaments.

It is common in the Psalter (Psalm 23, 77, 79, 80, 95, 100, etc.) and is also found in the prophetic tradition. For example, Isaiah describes God’s love for us with this striking image: “Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care” (Isaiah 40: 9b-11). Jeremiah and Ezekiel both criticize the leaders of Israel for not being “good shepherds” (cf. Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 34).

LIFE TO THE FULL
In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus makes rich use of the “good shepherd” image in his parables and teaching. God will leave the 99 to search for the lost lamb (cf. Matthew 18). Jesus shows compassion for the people because they are “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). When Jesus teaches his disciples to trust in Divine Providence by seeking first God’s kingdom, he consoles them by saying, “Do not live in fear, little flock. It has pleased your Father to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

This image continues in the epistles as well, as we see in today’s second reading, where Peter teaches us that the Lord is the “shepherd and guardian of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25).

But nowhere in the Scriptures, in my opinion, is the image of the Lord as the Good Shepherd as profound as it is in Psalm 23 and John 10. Both passages tell us that God will not just provide for us but that he will do so with abundance — in fact, with a “super abundance.”

In Psalm 23 we are told that the Good Shepherd will provide so much that our cups will “overflow” (Psalm 23:5). In John 10:10, Jesus tells us that he has come so that we “might have life and have it more abundantly.” The Greek word translated as “abundantly” is perrissos. This is a difficult word to translate. In Strong’s Biblical Dictionary several possibilities are given, including: over and above, more than necessary, superadded, exceeding abundantly, supremely, much more than all, extraordinary, surpassing, more remarkable, and more excellent.

Our Good Shepherd gave his life so that we might have an exceedingly abundant, more excellent life — life to the full. This life begins here and now with the Lord and all others in him. It is brought to perfection in the eternal life of heaven.

In imitation of the Good Shepherd, our mothers and grandmothers have given their love and devotion to us so that we may have more abundant lives. Thank you, moms, for modeling Christ for us! May the Good Shepherd bless you super-abundantly this Mother’s Day.

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Msgr. Stuart Swetland, a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, is the Most Rev. Harry J. Flynn Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount St. Mary University in Emmitsburg, Md., and director of the Center for the Advancement of Catholic Higher Education.

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