Have you ever thought about how often you are identified with a number? At the bank you have account numbers, PIN numbers to access your accounts, and credit card numbers.
The IRS identifies you with a Social Security number. Doctors and hospitals identify you with a Medicare number. Numbers are so impersonal. Isn’t it nice when someone remembers your name, or when you are known by name rather than a number?
The 4th Sunday of Easter is traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday. In John’s Gospel today, we hear Jesus speak words that give us that kind of warm feeling. That we have when someone cares for us, is interested in what's happening in our lives, empathises and encourages us.
Jesus tells us about the very personal and intimate relationship that he has with us. I know my sheep. The Father has given them to me...no one can take them from the Father’s hand. Some of the most meaningful pictures in Christian art depict Jesus as a shepherd. Jesus holding a lamb, or carrying a lamb across his shoulders, or watching over sheep.
All this builds up a mental image of someone with an intense love for our total well-being at every turn of our life. Especially in this Easter season we are reminded that we have a living and all-powerful Saviour who is walking beside us every day through thick and thin.
No doubt there are times when it seems that Jesus is a million miles away. We have prayed for help in times of sickness and the pain is as intense as ever. We have asked Him to guide us through some difficult decisions, but we have blundered on making one mistake after another. We have wanted Him to watch over our loved ones, but they have still been caught up in trouble and accidents.
We may feel as if we are losing our faith in Jesus. But the fact is Jesus hasn’t gone anywhere. He is right here with us. He knows what is happening in our lives. He knows what is going through our minds and how restless and anxious we are. He will use his power to help and support us. Jesus’ promise is good even when we are doubting and despairing,"I am the good Shepherd, I know my sheep. Jesus is the one who cares, the one who saves the lost, and rescues from trouble. He is the one who is intimately and individually concerned about each one of his sheep.
He provides his sheep with everything they need. He is the one whose staff and rod defend the sheep if any danger should come their way. Even though we are down and almost out, we are assured that we are in the arms of the everlasting shepherd. The one who lovingly supports and strengthens us in our weakest and most painful moments. Like the lamb that is often pictured in Jesus’ arms, we can be at peace and feel safe in the arms of our loving shepherd.
We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we do know that we have a loving shepherd who walks with us through the good and bad. And one day, he will walk with us and lead us to the glorious new life beyond our life here on earth. Because we have a loving shepherd, goodness and love will follow us all our lives and we will live in the house of the Lord forever. Amen
Homily preached by Deacon Gerry Mattingly on Mass of the Air, April 17, 2016