Fourth Sunday of Easter - Fr. Pete Iorio
April 30, 2023 - 11:00 AM
A new pastor was teaching the 23rd Psalm in Sunday school. He told the children about sheep, that they weren’t smart and needed lots of guidance, and that a shepherd’s job was to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals and keep them from wandering off. He pointed to the little children in the room and said that they were the sheep and needed lots of guidance. Then the pastor put his hands out to the side, palms up in a dramatic gesture, and with raised eyebrows said to the children, “If you are the sheep, then who is the shepherd?” He was pretty sure that all the kids would point out to him as the shepherd. A silence of a few seconds followed. Then a young girl said, “Jesus! Jesus is the shepherd.” The young pastor, obviously caught by surprise, said to the little girl, “Well then, who am I?” The girl frowned thoughtfully and then said with a shrug, “I guess you must be a sheep dog.”
One of the most beloved images in Scripture is the Good Shepherd. The Psalms speak of the people of Israel as God's flock, and it is God himself who is the person of the Good Shepherd. In Psalm 23, we pray for example: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures.” It is an image that offers comfort to those who are suffering or who perhaps feel abandoned and it is the most popular psalm requested to be sung at funerals. The 23rd psalm is a prayer that puts all trust in a God who cares for his people, a God who understands their needs and goes in search of his flock, a God who guarantees their safety and well-being.
Time and again, we return to the theme of sacrificial love. Jesus is the good shepherd, because he is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. His pastoral care includes knowing them by name, and guiding them to fullness of life. In contrast, the bad shepherds tend to seek profit and self aggrandizement, and do not care for the well-being of the sheep in their care.
In 2018, Pope Francis canonized a Central American bishop who embodied being a good Shepherd. Archbishop, Oscar Romero was demanding human rights for his people under oppression. By doing this, he knew that his life was in danger. He did not let fear stop him from speaking out and advocating for the poor. He persisted in speaking publicly against tyranny and for freedom. He once told newspapermen that even if his enemies killed him, he would rise again among his people. In the capital city of El Salvador on March 24, 1980 while he was celebrating mass, an assassin killed Archbishop Oscar Romero with a single shot to the heart. Only a few minutes before, the archbishop had finished a hope-filled homily in which he urged the people to serve one another.
While, today is world day of prayer for vocations in the church, I know and highlight that good shepherds who lay down their lives include husbands and wives who can’t do enough for each other to demonstrate their commitment to each other; parents who make countless sacrifices for the good of their children; teachers who spend untold hours instructing students who have trouble getting it; doctors, nurses and caregivers who work untiringly, spending themselves to care for their patients; employers who share profits with their workers; those politicians who unselfishly promote the common good of their voters, and also you parishioners who generously support our parish community. May God both inspire us and guide us to follow ever more closely Jesus, our good shepherd.