The protective presence of the Good Shepherd - Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > The protective presence of the Good Shepherd - Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)

Each of us as Christians is a disciple of Jesus Christ. The foundation of the Christian life is a personal, indeed, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. For the Christian, Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He is the constant point of reference and the single most significant source of inspiration for our life.

A disciple places his or her life under the direction and guidance of the one who is the master. The disciple sits at the master’s feet to listen and learn. The disciple seeks to imitate the master.

The Christian, then, is in a master/disciple relationship with Christ.

Each year on this fourth Sunday of Easter the Gospel reading is taken from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John. This chapter presents the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. This introduces a new and attractive way of seeing our relationship with Jesus.

Referring to experiences which would have been very familiar to his listeners, Jesus describes the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. He is not just a hired man who is disinterested in the wellbeing of the sheep, rather a good shepherd is devoted to ensuring that the sheep are provided with good pasture, adequate water and sound protection.

The master/disciple relationship is taken to a whole new level though the use of this image. The Lord describes how as the shepherd enters the sheepfold the sheep hear his voice. Immediately they are reassured. He walks out and they trustingly follow. They know that this shepherd is intent on providing for them. They have no anxiety as they walk behind him.

Inspired by this description of the Good Shepherd, the Christian keenly senses that their life and needs are in the hands of Jesus. We sense that there is protective hand over our life. This hand at times guides and, at other times, shields. We have a sense of security. We are safe, no matter what dangers lie around us.

As the psalmist says, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you”. (Ps 91:7) We have an assurance that whatever may befall us, all will be well.

This assurance in captured in the opening verse of Psalm 22: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”

In this time of global struggle with the coronavirus, the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is most reassuring. We note that the sheep follow because they know the voice of the shepherd. This brings us back to discipleship.

To place our lives under the protection of the Good Shepherd, we need to listen to the voice of our shepherd, Jesus Christ. We must daily place ourselves under his guidance and direction.

The prophet Isaiah describes the true servant of God in these words, “Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord has opened my ear.” (Is 50:4) Each morning. The true disciple will orient his or her life to the Lord, each day. Not occasionally, but as the pattern to life.
No day should pass without time given to attention to the Lord. Each day we pray. Each day we turn our hearts and minds to the Lord to attune ourselves to him. Each day we invoke his presence.

The well-known hymn St Patrick’s Breastplate expresses this attitude of the Christian. It is a hymn invoking the presence and protection of God upon rising in the morning.

I arise today, through
God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

The Christian can pray this prayer because of a faith fashioned by scriptural images like that of the Good Shepherd, and by the steady experience of life. Christ is with me and watches over and protects me.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday 3 May 2020