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Fourth Sunday of Easter: The shepherd

In the Old Testament, God is often portrayed as a shepherd who guides, protects, and nourishes his people (Psalms 80:2; 23); “he gathers the lambs in his arms, and gently leading those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11). He takes care of Israel that has been brought to ruin by unworthy kings and promises: “I will gather the remnant of my sheep from every land to which I have driven them and I will bring them back to the grasslands. They will be fruitful and increase in number. I will appoint shepherds who will take care of them…” (Jeremiah 23:3-5). 
It is the announcement of the Messiah who will be a true shepherd, a king after the heart of God. Jesus’ statement “I am the good shepherd,” with which today’s Gospel begins, refers explicitly to the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). 
It is easy to associate the image of the “good shepherd” with Jesus who, with gentleness and immense compassion, goes in search of those who did wrong in life as in Matthew and Luke. 
In today’s Gospel, however, the “good shepherd” is not someone who is tenderly caressing the wounded sheep, but a fighter who, at the cost of his own life, confronts anyone who endangers the herd. 
The qualification of “good” does not refer to feelings; it does not mean sweet, lovable, but “real”, “authentic”, “brave”. Jesus is the true shepherd because he is tied so passionately to his sheep and ready to sacrifice his life for them. 
To give the image even more emphasis, Jesus contrasts it with the figure of the mercenary (John 10:12-13). The villagers often resorted to a waged worker who took care of the flocks of many villagers together. Strict legislation specified his responsibility: he had to deal with a wolf, two dogs, a small animal, but he could flee from a lion, a leopard, a bear or a thief. In his contract there was no clause to willingly sacrifice his life for the sheep. 
The example of the “Good Shepherd” is not just for priests and bishops, but to every Christian. Every disciple must have a heart of a true shepherd; he or she must cultivate the unconditional generosity of the master with regards to persons. 
The one who has a mercenary’s heart adheres to the minimum requirements set in the contract, quibbles over the duties more or less circumvented, and is faithful to the edicts of the law to obtain a reward or avoid a punishment. 
Whoever has a heart like Jesus does not count the cost. He does not ask where his rights reach and where his duties end; what rules are laid down and what are the arrangements with the owner. Divine love knows no boundaries; it does not stop in the face of any obstacle, risk and sacrifice. 
Whoever does not love as Christ has loved will never understand his choices and his proposals. 
 ● Father Fernando Armellini
 Claretian Publications
Translated by 
Father John Ladesma SDB
Abridged by Father Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF