[Excerpted from the March/April 2018 issue of Emmanuel. Brother John R. Barker, OFM, is a Franciscan friar of the Province of Saint John the Baptist (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.]
As we move into the second half of Easter, the Gospel readings turn from the resurrection narratives to a consideration of the relationship between Christ and his people, who are now being formed as a church. The metaphor that comes to the fore this week is Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
There are two essential points that come out here. The first is that Jesus as the Good Shepherd has been sent by the Father to answer a pressing need for God’s people. For a little background, we might turn Ezekiel 34. In this chapter, God tells the prophet to prophesy against “the shepherds of Israel,” which in this context means both the political and religious leaders. The shepherds are accused of pasturing themselves. They use the flock for their own advantage instead of looking after their needs.
In response, God promises to act as shepherd himself: “I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest. . . . The lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, and the the sick I will heal . . .” (34:15, 16). In Christ, God has made good on this promise. Now, in Christ, the Father is assured that his sheep will be well taken care of because the one taking care of them is no hired hand, but the one sent by the Father.