On Good Shepherd Sunday our focus is on Jesus, the one who knows us and by whom we are known. The intimacy of God’s knowledge and love for us is humbling, frightening and awesome at the same time. God loves us and intends our salvation; the promise of eternal life. In John’s Gospel the image of Jesus as shepherd is prominent. The earliest artistic representation of Jesus ever found by archaeologists is that of Jesus with a lamb on his shoulder – the Shepherd tending to his flock.
Building off a rich imagery of God in the Old Testament as the shepherd of his people, Jesus employs the language of a shepherd for himself as well. This is on the one hand prophetic, and on the other hand, instructive to his disciples. While the shepherds of the Jewish people had abandoned their obligations for personal gain, Jesus stands as the Good Shepherd who will never neglect or abandon his people.
In 1988 St. John Paul II issued an Apostolic Constitution entitled: Pastor Bonus (“The Good Shepherd”) in it he opens with, “The Good Shepherd, the Lord Christ Jesus, conferred on the bishops, the successors of the Apostles, and in a singular way on the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, the mission of making disciples in all nations and of preaching the Gospel to every creature. And so the Church was established, the people of God, and the task of its shepherds or pastors was indeed to be that service ‘which is called very expressively in Sacred Scripture a diaconia or ministry.’
“The main thrust of this service or diaconia is for more and more communion or fellowship to be generated in the whole body of the Church, and for this communion to thrive and produce good results. As the insight of the Second Vatican Council has taught us, we come, with the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit, to see the meaning of the mystery of the Church in the manifold patterns within this communion: for the Spirit will guide ‘the Church in the way of all truth and [unify] her in communion and in the work of ministry, he bestows upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts [...]. Constantly he renews her and leads her to perfect union with her Spouse.’ Wherefore, as the same Council affirms, ‘fully incorporated into the Church are those who, possessing the Spirit of Christ, accept all the means of salvation given to the Church together with her entire organization, and who — by the bonds constituted by the profession of faith, the sacraments, ecclesiastical government, and communion — are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops.’”
It is this Church and this mission that has been handed down to us. While we see in the hierarchy of the church the exercise of authority, it rests upon the whole of the Church – the lay faithful, the religious, and the deacons and priests in communion with the bishops, to be of service to each other and to the non-believing world as shepherds. Our ministry is a together-with enterprise of service. We cannot simply be passive in the exercise of our discipleship. While each, according to his or her office, exercises a specific and necessary role, the priesthood of all the baptized is more than a nice theological assertion. It demands from all of us due diligence on how we live our lives, raise our children, exercise our civic duties, and serve the Church at large.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]