Jesus the Good Shepherd carries us and lays down his life for us

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

We all know how popular pictures of Jesus the Good Shepherd are. In some of these images we see Jesus holding a sheep/lamb over his shoulders, holding the two front legs of the lamb/sheep in his right hand and the two rear legs in his left hand. This image or those similar to it appeals to us because of the tenderness of Jesus, his care for the lamb/sheep and his compassion. When we see this image our minds naturally begin to wander and we realize its personal meaning for us. We are that lamb or sheep who is being carried by Jesus on his shoulders. Such an image is reassuring for us; Jesus is our support on our journey through life. When crosses and problems come our way or some personal disasters occurs this image of Jesus the Good Shepherd reassures us that we are not abandoned, that Jesus is supporting and holding us up. This is portrayed very beautifully in the Footprints poem which concludes in this way,

I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life
there has only been one set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied,
“The years when you have seen only one set of footprints,
my child, is when I carried you.”

Jesus proclaims in the Gospel today that he is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). A hired man, Jesus says, has no concern for his sheep and abandons them even to the wolves but Jesus lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:12-14).  He does this because in Matt 9:36 and Mark 6:34 we read

At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.

So Jesus laid down his life for them by teaching them the true way of living. Metaphorically, Jesus carried the sick on his shoulder, and those burdened by a huge number of laws interpreting the Torah. So at the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth Jesus proclaimed a Jubilee, “a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Luke 4:19)  Then the beautiful prophecy of Ezekiel 34 was fulfilled in Jesus,

As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd; because my shepherds did not look after my sheep, but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep…I myself will look after and tend my sheep. (Ezek 34:8-9, 11)

In our time people are also given over to pillage and are food for every wild beast because they are being exploited by the materialistic culture of the West and have forgotten that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We need to be reminded again and again that we are spiritual beings, with an eternal future as second second today reading states,

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

We need to be reminded as Peter reminded his listeners in our first reading, that it is only in Jesus’ name we are saved,

There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved. (Acts 4:12)

Jesus the Good Shepherd carrying us on his shoulders is symbolized in a beautiful way by the Pallium which archbishops wear over their shoulders while celebrating Mass. The Pallium is made from lamb’s wool. During the Mass for the inauguration of his Pontificate on Sunday April 24th 2005 Pope Benedict explained the significance of the Pallium beautifully in this way,

…the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of life. The human race – every one of us – is the sheep lost in the desert which no longer knows the way. The Son of God will not let this happen; he cannot abandon humanity in so wretched a condition. He leaps to his feet and abandons the glory of heaven, in order to go in search of the sheep and pursue it, all the way to the Cross. He takes it upon his shoulders and carries our humanity; he carries us all – he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. What the Pallium indicates first and foremost is that we are all carried by Christ. But at the same time it invites us to carry one another. Hence the Pallium becomes a symbol of the shepherd’s mission...

As Pope Benedict said, the Pallium is an invitation to carry one another, we are all to be shepherds to each other, to carry each other on our shoulders. But all of you preparing to become priests are preparing to share in a special way in the mission of the Good Shepherd to carry the weak members of the flock on your shoulders. Jesus the Good Shepherd is your model. 

Since Jesus is the Good Shepherd and not a hired hand, he does not run away when the wolf comes, instead he lays down his life for his sheep. Instead the hired hand runs away when the wolf comes. Jesus the Good Shepherd, shepherded to the point of giving his life for his sheep, dying on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. The Good Shepherd became the Lamb of God. You who are preparing to become priests are laying down your lives for your future flocks. The Good Shepherd loves you and your love for the Good Shepherd drives you to lay down your life to bring others to Jesus the Good Shepherd. True love is not just emotional but makes sacrifices for the sake of the beloved. Many times in your future ministry you will sacrifice yourself for the sake of carrying your flock on your shoulder. But you also know that Jesus the Good Shepherd will not be outdone in generosity to you.

Today let us pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, that many will be inspired to show true love, to the point of sacrificing many other attractive options to become priests of Jesus, to follow him in religious life. In our time, as in Ezekiel’s people are given over to pillage and are food for every wild beast. May Jesus the Good Shepherd raise up many shepherds after his own heart to lay down their lives and carry his sheep on their shoulders.

(Footprints in the Sand is by Mary Stevenson © 1984 and used here with permission. The official website address is http://www.footprints-inthe-sand.com)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More material for the Fourth Sunday of Easter Year B

Related Homilies: Jesus is the Good Shepherd

Jesus laying down his life: Gethsemane and crucifixion

Jesus is High Priest of the New Testament 2006

See Vocations Sunday in Years A, B and C

a good shepherd laying his life for his sheep St. Damien of Molokai

St Patrick tended animals and returned to Ireland to lay down his life for his flock

Second Reading: Love of God for us 2009