4th Sunday of Easter B (Youth Mass)

On the Fourth Sunday of Easter every year, Jesus describes the qualities of a good shepherd, and if you are a pastor, it always sounds like an annual job review.  Right there is the job description.  “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” There is a scenario you must answer – “What would you do if the wolf came to threaten your sheep?” It is a good and challenging standard to be judged by.

But I am far from thinking I am the only one who shepherds around here.  Into each of our lives shepherding comes – moments of leadership and care.  Moms and Dads are shepherds of their families, captains are shepherds of our teams, and we all feel responsibility for the flock of our friends.  Are we good shepherds?  Do we lay down our lives for our sheep?

I recall what the German poet Rilke once wrote in a letter.  Think about what you would die for and then live for it.  That was first quoted to me when I was discerning priesthood and when I thought of what I would die for, the answer came with surprising ease – the Eucharist, the Church and God’s people.  That is where I would lay down my life.  And I imagine when we think of how we would react if our family were threatened or our team challenged or our friends provoked, we would come up with our answers as swiftly.  We would surely be good shepherds. We would lay down our lives.  But that does leave a question – why are there still so many wolves?

I believe it is because we have a fairly restricted view of our flock.  We are always ready to defend, fight for and rally for “our own” but we limit the definition of who that is.  Yet, what did we here in the second reading?  “We are God’s children now.”  All the flocks are made up of God’s children so they are all deserving and needy of our friendship and our shepherding.   We must look out not only for our family, but for the stranger; not just for our neighbors, but all our neighborhoods; not only for our side, but all sides.

So am I saying that when you see one of these fifth graders walking and looking lost and confused in the middle school next year I expect you to help them out just because you go to church with them?  Yes.  Does that mean that when our eighth graders come to the high school next year and are getting picked on I expect our seniors from the parish to stick up for them?  Definitely.  Does that mean when we see someone alone and vulnerable in the cafeteria it is your responsibility to share your time and your goodness with them?  Undoubtedly.

Imagine that world where everyone tried to be a shepherd of the other.  Mean girls would no longer be popular, they would seem oddly out of place.  The one who isolated any of these little sheep would be cast out themselves for not being inclusive.  The bully would be bewildered because no one would be on their side.  The world of the good shepherd is pretty beautiful place.

The psalm tells us that “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.”  Jesus is that stone that was rejected.  If we are to search him out, he will not be in the place where all are easily accepted and he will not only be with those we prefer.  He will always dwell among the rejected because they need a good shepherd – someone who they know and who knows them.  Unless we wander among these flocks, we will not be in the company of the good shepherd.

To imitate the good shepherd is to stand up for others even when you are not threatened.  To imitate the good shepherd is to know there is only flock and one shepherd. To imitate the good shepherd is to think of no one as strangers and to see all as brothers and sisters.  In the world of good shepherds, no life is taken.  They are laid down for each other.