Daily Homily: I Am the Good Shepherd

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

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Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 42:2-3; 43:3, 4
John 10:11-18

In the Gospel, Jesus proclaims that he has other sheep, meaning the Gentiles, that do not belong to this fold, meaning the Jews. This distinction is present in the first reading, when Peter has to explain why he baptized Cornelius and his household and ate with them. On his return to Jerusalem, the Church rejoices that the Gentiles have accepted the word of God, but are concerned that Peter’s table fellowship with the Gentiles goes against the ritual purity protected by the Levitical regulations and leads to contamination.

As the Good Shepherd, Jesus seeks the good of his flock. By contrast evil shepherds use the flock only to feed themselves. They will protect the flock for their own gain, but they are not prepared to lay down their life for the flock. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, because he loves them. Christ lays down his life for us, and we should lay down our lives for our brothers (1 John 3:16).

Thomas Aquinas brings out three differences between good shepherds and evil shepherds. First they differ in their intention. The good shepherd seeks to feed his flock (Ezekiel 34:2) and longs for eternal life; the evil shepherd is intent on his wages. Second, they differ in that the good shepherd holds his sheep in his heart, while the evil shepherd has no care for them. Lastly, the good shepherd exposes himself to danger that affect his bodily life; the evil shepherd flees when he sees the wolf (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 10, 3, 1401-1405).

Jesus knows the will of the Father that he should die for the salvation of the flock. He is the mediator between God and man: he knows the sheep and the sheep know him; he is known by the Father and he knows the Father (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 10, 3, 1414). The fruit of Christ’s death was the salvation of both the Jews and the Gentiles. In this way, Jesus gathers all the children of God into one flock. During his public ministry, Jesus is set only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24), but after his Ascension, Jesus, through the Apostles, leads the Gentiles into the one flock, redeemed through his sacrifice. United to Christ the Good Shepherd by love and exercising the authority granted them by Christ, the Apostles are also good shepherds. Jesus continues to shepherd his Church at the right hand of the Father and through the successors to the Apostles.

Good shepherds are led by the Holy Spirit. Peter was praying when he saw the vision of the large sheet with animals of all kinds. A heavenly voice declares that the animals are clean. Peter eventually realizes that «the distinction between clean and unclean foods symbolizes the fare more important distinction between Jews as clean and Gentiles as clean – a distinction that has now been removed in Christ» (Kurz, Acts of the Apostles, Baker, 171). Peter obeys God’s command and enters the house of the Gentile Cornelius, who is eager to hear the words of salvation, the words by which he and his household will be saved. Seeing the action of the Holy Spirit and seeing the desire of Cornelius for salvation in Christ, Peter sees no reason not to baptize Cornelius and his family.

Peter today exercises his authority as a good shepherd: first, he seeks to feed the flock of Christ, bring them into unity and lead them to life-giving waters; second, he cares for the flock without reserve and follows God’s commands faithfully and prudently; lastly, he does not fear to expose himself to danger for the good of the flock even when people might not understand his actions. As a priest of God and overseer (bishop)of the God’s flock, Peter shares in Christ’s priesthood. He knows the Father through the Son and he knows his sheep by name. Collaborating with God’s grace, he seeks to be a shepherd and priest who is worthy of faith and trust; knowing his limitations and failings as a sheep in God’s flock, he understandings the misery of his brothers and is a priest who is merciful.

Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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Jason Mitchell

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