May 8, 2022 – Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C
This year, Good Shepherd Sunday coincides with our secular celebration of Mother’s Day. The two make an excellent pair.
To be a shepherd and to be a mother are both lowly, simple calls. Feeding sheep and changing diapers don’t typically get you on the cover of magazines. They are thankless tasks, easily overlooked, and often avoided in pursuit of more palatable pleasures.
At the same time, they are calls that involve great hardship and peril. David defended his flock from lions and bears and giants. (1 Samuel 17:34-36) Mothers today defend their children from a whole host of adversaries who “prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
One Catholic blogger conveyed the travails of motherhood thus: “You’re lonely, but you’re never alone. You’re bored, but you’re always busy. You feel worthless even though they love you. You feel guilty because motherhood is hard.” I wouldn’t put it past a pastor or two to have had the same thoughts exactly.
And yet, what could be more beautiful than motherhood? Mothers literally give the gift of life to tiny little people who bring joy to the world. Their very existence is a powerful rail against death itself.
And what could be more inspiring than to be a shepherd? Good shepherds lay down their lives for their sheep. They seek out the lost and defend the lowly. Their job is to tend the gift of life entrusted to their care.
Shepherds and mothers “abide in the field,” “keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8) They are all in, sleeping in the very arena in which they “compete,” a step ahead of those whom they watch over.
Both become tangible images for us of deeper spiritual realities, which we are all called to, whatever our particular vocation may be. We are called, each in our own way, and with our own particular gifts, to suffer in love with and for the people around us, and even those distant from us, especially the weak, the lost and those in need of care.
We ourselves each experience the need for good shepherds and mothers in our own lives. Fallible as the concrete iterations of them may be in our experience, in Christ, we all receive the Good and perfect Shepherd who gives us eternal life. (John 10:28) He cares for his sheep, his children. He knows them, and no one can take them out of his hand. (John 10:27-28) No one.
To be his child is to hear his voice and follow him, wherever he goes, wherever he leads. (John 10:27) It is to wash our robes in the blood he provides for us, to cleanse us of our sins and lead us to springs of life-giving water. (Revelation 7:14-17) We receive that invitation as the mighty relief it is meant to be — freely given and to our Shepherd’s great delight. He is so good to us.
Our world is at war in these days, both literally and figuratively. The jealousy, violent abuse, contradiction, rejection, condemnation, inciting, persecution and expulsion that Paul and Barnabas encountered in Antioch in Pisidia seem to be spirits that are still alive and well in the human psyche. (Acts 13:14.45-46.50) But like them, our call as Christians is to follow the path of our Good Shepherd and to do as he commanded us: “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.”
Show of force and clever comebacks are not what are required to overcome the battles of our day, but rather, a spirit of peace, surrender, childlike trust, and joy. Our Shepherd is a Lamb. (Revelation 7:17) Paul and Barnabas “spoke out boldly” and “shook the dust from their feet in protest” of those who came against them, but they did so “filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:46.51-52)
“We are his people, the sheep of his flock.” (Psalm 100:3) We are steady in his Father’s hands, and his Father is greater than all. (John 10:29) And so we can proceed filled with joy in the lowly and simple, perilous and difficult call to be good shepherds, mothers, nurturers, ultimately of eternal life.