Thought for the Day – The Fourth Sunday of Easter Year B – “Good Shepherd/Vocations Sunday” – Todays Readings: Acts 4:8-12, Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28-29, 1 John 3:1-2, John 10:11-18
“The Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep”
Despite Jesus’ realistic word-picture, the parable of the Good Shepherd only fully comes alive in Jesus Himself, God’s appointed “Shepherd” of men. He names two characteristics of such a shepherd: first the shepherd’s commitment to the flock even to the point of death; and second, the reciprocal recognition between sheep and shepherd, which is anchored in the innermost mystery of God.
The theme of self-giving to the point of death, is found at both the beginning and the end of the Gospel. This devotion, contrasts sharply with the flight of the “hired hand”, who, when facing danger, has the excuse that the life of a man is more valuable than the life of a dumb animal. This argument loses its force, however, when the shepherd cares so much for his sheep, that he prefers them to his own life. That is scarcely conceivable in purely natural terms but it becomes a central truth in the realm of grace. It only makes sense with the aid of the second theme of the parable – the shepherd knows his sheep and the animals likewise instinctively recognise him. For Jesus, this is merely the point of comparison for a completely different recognition: “as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” This has nothing to do with instinct but with the most profound mutual recognition, as it is found in absolute trinitarian love. When Jesus applies this utterly sublime trinitarian love recognition to the inward mutuality between Himself and His own, He elevates this knowledge far above that which is hinted at by the parable.
And thus, it becomes clear, that the first motif of the parable (giving one’s life for the sheep) and the second motif (mutual recognition) coincide rather than merely parallel each other. The Father’s and the Son’s knowledge of each other is identical with their mutual and perfect selfgiving and therefore, the knowledge exchanged between Jesus and His own, is one with the perfect selfgiving of Jesus for and to His own and it implicitly includes the unity of the Christian’s knowledge and loving dedication to his Lord.
At the end, both themes are expressly joined together: the Father (also) loves the Son for His perfect selfgiving for the sake of men, a selfgiving which is both freely chosen by the Son and commissioned by the Father. This unmitigated surrender to mankind because it is Divine Love, is at the same time the power that achieves victory over death (“the power to take up life again”).
“No other name under heaven” in the First Reading, Peter gives the Lord all glory for the miracle he has effected. The point is not that, Jesus excepted, all who care for sheep are “hired hands” for the Lord Himself installed Peter to pasture His flock – precisely Jesus’ Flock, not Peter’s. Thus everything effective and appropriate ultimately is accomplished by the “chief Shepherd alone” (1 Pet 5:4), even if through the activity of His assistants.
Hans Urs von Balthasar “Light of the Word”