By The Reverend Monsignor Harry Entwistle
Sunday 22 April, 2018
Preached at St Ninians & St Chads Parish, Perth
St Paul’s Catholic Church, Mt Lawley
The gospel reading concerning Jesus the Good Shepherd is one of the most well-known images that Jesus applies to himself.
The prophet Ezekiel presents his own people with the image of God as the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost, brings back the strayed and watches over the fat and strong. Zechariah also speaks of a Shepherd who patiently suffers death, and in doing so becomes the Saviour who sets in in motion the final events of our salvation.
Jesus’ description of himself as the Good Shepherd follows on from his description of himself as ‘the door’ of the sheepfold. Jesus is preparing the disciples for the future leadership of the community that he is gathering together, and the future leaders must come into the sheepfold through Jesus who is both the door and the shepherd. Following his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus chooses Peter to be the shepherd, but a shepherd who leads with and under the authority of Jesus. One title of the Pope is ‘Vicar of Christ.’ This doesn’t mean that he is Jesus’ parish priest so much as one who acts vicariously for Jesus, namely one who acts with the authority and on behalf of Jesus.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Greek word for ‘good’ means ‘beautiful.’ He is not only attractive, but good at what he does. A good shepherd knows what sheep live on, so he assures that they have it. But Jesus’ disciples are no four-legged sheep, so what do need to live on and where is their food to be found?
Disciples feed on God’s truth knowing that he loves, nurtures and nourishes them. To provide this food, Jesus lays down his life for his sheep.
The Good Shepherd puts his whole self, body, mind and spirit at the disposal of the sheep. As a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies so that new life can emerge, so a grain of wheat must be crushed in order that bread can be produced. Here we have two images of dying in order to produce life. On the Cross, the Shepherd dies to bring the new life of the resurrection and salvation to those who love him, and the bread, which he says is his body we receive during the mass becomes the sustaining bread of the new life of our salvation.
St John tells us that the Good Shepherd knows his flock and they know him. He doesn’t just know about his disciples in the way that an agricultural student might write and assignment on the care of sheep. He knows us individually, and we are able to know him by recognising his presence in our lives. This recognition enables us to trust him, which is of course to have faith in him. It is this faith that enables us to have life in its fulness, which is what Jesus said he had come to give us. This life is a life of balance and harmony between ourselves and God, between ourselves and ourselves, ourselves and others and ourselves and our environment.
The Good Shepherd brings unity to his flock, not by rigid control or manipulation, but by attraction. He draws people to himself as he said he would do when he was lifted up on the cross. The ability to attract others to Jesus is the ministry of all disciples, but especially that of bishops, priests and deacons. These ordained men must be trusted pastors who teach the faith convincingly, care for the sick and needy, be men of prayer, caring confessors and devout in their administration of the sacraments. They are to be able to create unity within the flock and be resolute in defending the faith in the increasingly hostile world.
The sacrament of ordination is not some magic ceremony that imparts these abilities instantaneously, so the clergy must be helped by their flock to become good pastors to them. The crisis we face in the Australian Church has been created by many factors, one of which is that the laity perhaps did not assist them to be better pastors, even if that meant challenging them to be more responsible.
The Church is not a Corporation and must not be allowed to become one. It is not an unconnected group of individuals who meet in the same building at the same time. It is the Body of Christ. The well being, harmony and unity of the community must override the preferences of individuals in that community if the faithful are to have life in its fullness.
Pray for God to raise up faithful shepherds among us in the Ordinariate and continue to support those he calls. However, all of us must be shepherds to each other to show the world who God is, and what his Kingdom is meant to be.