The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday, for the readings focus on how our risen Lord Jesus is our shepherd, who leads us to eternal life. Even though we have less experience with sheep and shepherds in our society today, we can still identify strongly with the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and as the gate for the sheep.
Psalm 23 remains a favorite psalm for meditation and prayer. Personally I read this psalm every day as it allows me to reflect on the blessings I have in my own life here in Ocean City (“beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul”), His support when I need it (“you are at my side with your rod and staff that give me courage”), and the promise of eternal life (“and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come”). As we read the psalm today in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to feel that we are indeed walking through the “dark valley” not knowing when normalcy will return to our lives. But, as everything with God, we are invited towards greater trust – and in the process experience more hope, peace, and gratitude in the midst of suffering.
In the Gospel we hear Jesus say “The sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” Each day, we hear many voices from every media angle but the goal is to be wary, like the sheep, and recognize only Jesus’ voice. Are you fleeing from the bad voices and following only Jesus? In the image of the Good Shepherd, we know ourselves to be protected and cared for by a loving God. We are truly His sheep but are we doing everything we can to enter the gate through Jesus?
In today’s first reading (Acts 2:36-41), Peter and the other apostles are asked by the repentant and chastened crowd: “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand disciples were added that day. In accepting baptism, we enter through the gate and have access to the wide and green pastures of God’s many gifts, including a greater capacity to love and to forgive. The Lord has granted these to us, His sheep, by giving us access to His pasture and His grace, and feeding us there.