“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
So here we are in the Season of Easter. We have been considering the post-resurrection experiences of Jesus and suddenly we are asked to consider Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It is such a, “turn left NOW!” intrusion, that some traditions actually call this Sunday, “Shepherd Sunday” just so people will know it going to be different. Trying always, as St Ignatius of Loyola taught us, to “think with the Church“, I set about wondering what the Good Shepherd could possibly have to do with the Resurrection?
I began musing on the after-tomb experiences the disciples had with Jesus. How he appeared mysteriously and almost magically in locked rooms, on the road, on the beach; always encountering the disciples. I found myself wondering if I were Jesus, if I would really have wanted to go back and hang out with the people who had betrayed, denied and deserted me as a crucified criminal. People who, apart for the women, left me for dead! I am not sure that being with my fickle followers would have made my “after the bucket” list. But, that is just me musing of course. I am sure more forgiving people would do as Jesus did.
Parents probably. Don’t you just love how as parents we never quit on our kids no matter what they do to us? Priests possibly. I am amazed at the abuse the clergy put up with for the love of Jesus. We may make a list that could include other forgivers like teachers, social workers, nurses, firemen? Lawyers? No NOT lawyers! Shepherds?
Ah! At last I understood why Shepherd Sunday falls right in the middle of the Easter season!
If Jesus wasn’t the Good Shepherd he wouldn’t have hung around to heal, reconcile and commission a community of failures into an ecclesia. He would have headed straight for heaven like so many of his followers these days seem hell bent on doing, if you know what I mean?
Not the Good Shepherd though, the Good Shepherd who has “the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again” picks up loving and caring, cajoling and commissioning just where he left off before they strung him up and left him for dead.
In this respect he reminds me of the Buddhist notion of the Boddhisattva. A Boddhisattva is one who sets about “cultivating supreme moral and spiritual perfection, to be placed in the service of others. In particular, Bodhisattvas promise to practice the “six perfections” of giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, concentration and wisdom in order to fulfill their bodhichitta aim of attaining enlightenment for the sake of all beings.” (Reference). A Bodhisattva will keep reincarnating until they have helped every other being attain Nirvana ahead of them.
It’s kind of like a Shepherd who won’t go home to rest until he knows all the flock have entered into their rest. A shepherd, who even when he is dead tired or just plain dead, gets up and continues seeking and calling until the sheep are all home.
To make this even more profound, our Good Shepherd has more than one flock. He said so. He also said that his work wasn’t done until he had also brought them. All the flocks.
I would like to think the Boddhisattvas will be there helping him too? Perhaps that is all the help there will be for Jesus, given that the Christians are in such a hurry to get themselves to heaven, and damn the rest!