4th Sunday of Easter
Antoine de Saint Exupery’s classic The Little Prince has a chapter in which the little prince and the fox are engaged in a conversation. The Little Prince tries to explain to the fox that the rose that he has been taking care of is the best rose in the world. The rose looks and smells just like any other rose, but for the little prince it is the best rose in the world. Why? Because this particular rose the Little Prince has been taking care of is his rose.
Look at the personal care of the Little Prince for his rose vis-à-vis the impersonal treatment of modern society to humans. Consider also the several numbers attached to people: student numbers, driver’s license numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers, checkbook numbers, address numbers, etc. We have been reduced to numbers. In our ever-increasing computer age, we have become faceless, impersonal numbers, and no longer individuals. People are reduced to ‘numbers’ – generalities, categories, and abstractions.
It is against this background that we have to see the meaning and significance of today’s gospel reading. In John’s Gospel, Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd: “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.” In another passage from the gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd and “he calls each of his sheep by name.” The Lord knows us. By name. What the Lord is saying is that he knows each of us personally.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. As we celebrate the feast of the Good Shepherd, the Lord invites us to dwell on more deeply on how much he cares for each of us. His love is personal and his concern is always uniquely special for each of us. One gospel commentary has this to say about the Good Shepherd’s love: “It is precisely because his love for each one is unique that the care he bestows is always suited to one’s needs, one’s temperament and psychological makeup.” “It is a love that respects and gives consideration for our individual uniqueness as persons.”
Reflect on this wonderful truth for a moment: Jesus’ love for each of us is personal. The Good Shepherd’s care for each of his sheep is uniquely special and it is always suited to one’s needs, personality, character, disposition.
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Do we allow this declaration and assurance of self-giving love to be of greater influence in the way we live our lives? In the way we view ourselves and others? In the way we face challenges, difficulties, and problems? In the way we think of our needs, wants, and desires? If we really believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we will be able to profess Psalm 23 with faith: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”
Good Shepherd Sunday is also a reminder that all of us are called to be good shepherds. All of us have a chance to be shepherds in our own right. As a parent, elder, teacher, professional, worker, citizen, or ordinary person… each of us is put in a position to be a good shepherd. Some of us – pastors, minsters, leaders, directors, managers – hold key positions in a community or group, and have greater duty to be good shepherds.
The Good Shepherd’s personal love for us, his sheep, is the antidote to our tendency to depersonalize people – that is, of reducing people to numbers, categories and abstractions. Like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we have to see the person in every man and woman, rather than seeing them as just another man or woman. This is a call and a challenge to doctors to treat their patients as person and not just as “medical specimens.” Challenge to teachers to look at their students as person and not just as “academic subjects.” Challenge to lawyers to see and help their clients as person and not just as “legal cases.” Challenge to employers to deal with their employees as person and not just as “business assets.” Challenge to company owners to handle their workers as person and not just as “means of production.” Challenge to politicians to relate to their constituents as person and not just as “political bases.”
May we, who are shepherds in our own right, truly have the compassionate heart, the personal love, and the unique concern of the Good Shepherd.