In today’s Gospel in the traditional Roman Liturgy, we meditate on the beautiful Easter figure of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life for His sheep and Who has power to take up His life again. We marvel at the humility of the Shepherd Who became a Lamb, bleeding for the salvation of the sheep who had gone astray. We can never meditate enough on this solemn doctrine: that our Shepherd has loved us before we were good sheep, that while we were yet sinners He died for us.
The image of the Shepherd with His sheep comes to life if one studies the life of shepherds, so common in Jesus’s culture. I had occasion once to read a meditation on Psalm 22 from a Basque shepherd in Nevada. Among the fascinating details revealed in the shepherd’s simple work, I was most struck by the fact that each sheep personally checks in with the shepherd two times each day.
The first check-in happens in the first part of the day, after the flock has been taken out to pasture. This morning check-in is a moment of affirmation and love for each sheep. The shepherd pets him and reassured him that he’s a good sheep. This morning check-in reminds me of our morning meditation and prayer time. We rise with joy to place ourselves before our loving Shepherd, Who lavishes upon us His love and affirmation. Thus reassured by His loving embrace, we have the energy and confidence in Him required to live our duties of the day with great generosity and sacrifice.
The second check-in for each sheep is at the end of the day when the flock is done grazing and is returning to the sheepfold. The shepherd places himself at the sheepfold and makes a kind of gate with his staff, under which all the sheep have to walk to get in to the sheepfold. He stops each one as they pass and inspects them for insects or thorns or anything that would be unhealthy for them. He gives them water for refreshment and sometimes has to apply medicines that hurt in the moment but are ultimately salutary. This evening check-in reminds me of our evening meditation and prayer time. We are not as eager perhaps as we were in the morning because we are tired, so the Shepherd has to stop us at the gate. He then inspects us in our examination of conscience and refreshes us with the water of His Mercy, which sometimes includes medicines that feel harsh in the moment. All of this is for our good, of course, and we are able to sleep in health and peace of soul because our Shepherd cares for us.
Jesus, Good Shepherd, Risen Lord, I want to be Your sheep. I want to be forever a member of Your chosen flock. Please give me the grace to be a faithful sheep, to stay close to you in my morning and evening prayer times. Help me to hear Your Voice and to follow wherever You lead. I love you, Risen Shepherd. You laid down Your life for me and You took it up again. Give me a share in Your Resurrection!
Father Joseph Previtali