Laying Down His Life
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, which is at the same time the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
As ‘good’ the shepherd knows his flock, and his flock knows him. He is involved in their lives which are intimately interwoven through his continual giving of himself. Ultimately, this giving comes to the point where he lays down his life for the sheep. And, as usual, everything gets turned on its head.
How often do we see powerful, important people making sacrifices for less important people? And why should they, if they are more important? Yet the Son of God gives his life for sinners.
The characteristics of the Good Shepherd are total self-giving; intimate knowledge of and union with, his flock; sincere concern for their welfare; and striving for unity among all people who are invited to be part of the sheepfold.
The total self-giving of the Good Shepherd is carried out not once, but daily! Have you thought about how active Jesus is in your life? Every day the Good Shepherd accompanies you whether you realise it or not. He is always giving of himself to us in mystery, through faith and sacraments particularly the Holy Eucharist.
Similarly, the Good Shepherd’s intimate knowledge of you and me—his sheep—has not diminished, neither his concern for our welfare. In fact, as the Lord’s relationship with us is interior, he is closer to us than anyone else could possibly be.
By his life, death, resurrection and ascension Jesus has set us an example of service. He continues that same service of love as he pours his love into our hearts. That example was given so we may follow – so that the life he modelled, and that we continually receive, may be shared with others so we may have life to the full.
- We have Jesus’ example of laying down his life. Jesus ascends into mystery but continues giving himself to us through faith. Now we are called to share what we have been given. Now we are the shepherds!
We are now called to total self-giving; and through giving of ourselves, to have intimate knowledge of each other accompanied by a sincere concern for each other’s welfare. However, there is one more demand that even the Good Shepherd could not do of himself. Unity involves our effort above all. Unity involves the constant invitation of all people into the sheepfold.
All of what the Lord is asking is fulfilled as we participate in, and bring people to, the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the sacrament of the Good Shepherd. It schools us in Christian service as we enter its spirit of sacrifice. Most of all, contained in its mystery is the life of the Shepherd who continually lays it down, so we may have it. We need to bring people to this mystery, into the sheepfold. To do this we need Good Shepherds who model the giving of him who laid down his life for others.