GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY: Second Sunday After Easter
I am the Shepherd of the sheep: I am the way and the truth and the life: I am the Good Shepherd; and I know my sheep, and am known of mine, alleluia, alleluia.
O God, who by the humility of thy Son hast lifted up a fallen world, grant that to those whom thou hast delivered from the misfortunes of eternal death, thou mayest insure everlasting happiness. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord. Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, unto the ages of ages. Amen.
|Christ the Good Shepherd. Basilica di Sant'Apollinare Nuovo|
Christ the Good Shepherd'I am the good shepherd. And I know my sheep' (that is, I love them) 'and my sheep know me.' It is as if he said plainly: 'Those who love me, obey me.' For those who do not love the truth do not yet know it.
My dear brethren, now that you have heard of the test I must undergo, consider how these words of the Lord imply a test of your own. Ask yourselves if you are his sheep, if you know him, if you recognize the light of truth. What I mean is that you recognize it not simply by faith but by love, I mean, you recognize it not just by belief but by action. For John the apostle, whose words we have been discussing, also said: 'He who says he know God but disobeys his commandments is a liar.'
Consequently, in the passage we were originally considering, the Lord at once adds: '...as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.' It is as if he said straight out: 'The proof that I know the Father and the Father knows me is the fact that I lay down my life for my sheep; that is to say, the love which leads me to die for my sheep shows how much I love the Father.'
He goes on to add the following words concerning the sheep: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life.' A little earlier he said also:If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.' That is to say, he will go in to faith, and go out from faith to vision, from belief to contemplation, and he will find pasture at the everlasting feast.
So the sheep find the Lord's pastures; for anyone who follows him with an undivided heart is nourished in a pasture which is forever green. What are the pastures of these sheep if they are not the deepest joys of the everlasting fresh pastures of paradise? For the pasture of the saints is to see God face to face; when the vision of God never fails, the soul receives its fill of the food of life for ever.
And so, dear brethren, let us seek these pastures and there join in the joy and the celebrations of so many citizens of heaven. Let their happiness and rejoicing be an invitation to us. Let our hearts grow warm, brethren, let our faith be rekindled, let our desires for heavenly things grow warm; for to love like this is to be on the way.
No misforture should distract us from this happiness and deep joy; for if anyone is anxious to reach a destination, the roughness of the road will not make him change his mind. The charms of prosperity must not lead us astray; for only a foolish traveller, when he sees pleasant fields on his way, forgets to go on towards his destination.
"I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep." For the sake of his flock the shepherd was sacrificed as though he were a sheep. He did not refuse death; he did not destroy his executioners as he had the power to do, for his passion was not forced upon him. He laid down his life for his sheep of his own free will.
"I have the power to lay it down," he said, "and I have the power to take it up again."
By his passion he made atonement for our evil passions, by his death he cured our death, by his tomb he robbed the tomb, by the nails that pierced his flesh he destroyed the foundations of hell.
Death held sway until Christ died. The grave was bitter, our prison was indestructible, until the shepherd went down and brought to his sheep confined there the good news of their release.
His appearance among them gave them a pledge of their resurrection and called them to a new life beyond the grave. "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep and so seeks to win their love."
Now to love Christ means to obey his commands. The shepherd knows how to separate goats from sheep. The gospel says that "all nations will be assembled before him and he will separate people from one another, as the Good Shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand, and the goats on his left, and he will say to those on his right hand, 'Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.'"
What had they done to earn this invitation? "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me." What you give to those who are mine, you will receive back from me. Because they are naked, strangers, homeless, and poor, so am I, and in supplying their needs you show kindness to me. It is I who am afflicted when they cry out.
Win the judge over by gifts before you come to trial. Provide him with grounds for showing clemency, give him some reason to acquit you. Otherwise you will be among those on his left hand who hear the terrible sentence: "Depart from me with your curse upon you to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
What are the sins for which we would be condemned with the devil? I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not welcome me; naked and you did not clothe me.
Who could turn away from his own shepherd when he was hungry, or fail to notice when his future judge lacked necessary clothing? Who could condemn the judge of the whole world to suffer thirst?
Christ will accept even the gift of the poor and for a small gift grant remission of long punishment.
Let us put out the fire with mercy and avert the sentence that hangs over us by showing love for one another. Let us be compassionate toward one another and forgiving, as God has forgiven us in Christ.
To him be glory and power for ever. Amen.
~Basil of Seleucia, c. 459 (Homily 26, 2: PG 85, 306-07). Basil of Seleucia became archbishop of Seleucia about the year 440.