Of the many metaphors, images, forms, and figures used by Jesus to explain the Kingdom of God and His role relative to this world and that which is to come, it is the image of the Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:14) that is, perhaps, most familiar to the Christian world. As a common fixture in the ancient world, the shepherd and his role relative to his flock were well known to the contemporaries of Christ. It has stood the test of time: indeed, even now the image of the Good Shepherd conveys profound meaning and unfolds for us in penetrating terms the mystery of Jesus Christ and His intimate relation to the Church—that is, His own flock, one which He guides and protects. The Good Shepard labors for the good of His flock. He has laid down his life for the flock—indeed, for each member of the fold, even those who have gone astray (Mt. 19:10-14).
For those who have heard and heeded the voice of the Good Shepherd—for those who have come to know and love Him, Jesus Christ appears as the visible sign of the Father’s Love in and for the world; indeed, his body, “and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine (TOB 19:4).” In this way, Jesus Christ reveals himself as the Primordial Sacrament in and from whom all the Sacraments have their meaning and find their origin. The visible body of Jesus Christ, then, “has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it (TOB 19:4).” Jesus reveals, in a word, the “sacramental” meaning of all creation, a meaning that speaks jointly of its origins and its destiny. That man was created in the image of God, St. Pope John Paul II teaches, infers that in man this “sacramentality of creation, the sacramentality of the world…[is in] some way revealed. In fact, through his bodiliness, his masculinity and femininity, man becomes a visible sign of the economy of Truth and Love, which has its source in God himself and was revealed already in the mystery of creation (TOB 19:5).”
What, then, has Christ, the Good Shepherd, brought to the world concretely? What is on offer to us who have heard his voice and answered his call? Pope Benedict XVI speaks in answer to this fundamental question: “He has brought God. He has brought the God who formerly unveiled his countenance gradually, first to Abraham, then to Moses and the Prophets, and then in the Wisdom Literature—the God who revealed his face only in Israel, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth).” This is the inestimable gift given to us: God has given us His very Self. The Creator has become a creature! Now we can hear his voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd. Now we know his face, and now we can call upon him!
Against this background, then, St. Mark tells us that the heart of Jesus was “moved with pity” seeing that the people “were like sheep without a shepherd (Mk. 6:34).” As “he began to teach them many things,” He took up His place as a shepherd, a new Shepherd with a New Flock. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus tells us that “I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep (Jn. 10:14-15).” The encounter with Jesus is the encounter with Truth. This encounter awakens within us an awareness of our “longing for a truth that does not just make demands of us, but also transforms us through expiation and pardon (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, On Conscience).” Jesus Christ is the Truth Incarnate–or better, He is the Truth in Person. Pope Benedict XVI teaches that “if [man] does not hide from his own self,” his encounter with the Truth in Person—that is, his hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd gives rise to an insight that is at once certain and mysterious: he realizes that “this is the goal toward which my whole being tends–this is where I want to go (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Values in a Time of Upheaval)!” The people without a shepherd are hopeless no longer! The sheep have been called “out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).” For when the people heard His voice and saw Him at last, St. Mark tells us, “they hastened there on foot from all the towns (Mk. 6:34).” Let us pray that when the Good Shepherd speaks, we might hear and answer His call with simplicity and without fear. Let us pray for his guidance and protection, He who, in accord with his promise, never abandons His flock! Amen.
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
Fr. John Johnson was ordained in 2007 for the Diocese of Savannah, GA. He currently serves as the Pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Claxton, GA and Campus Ministry Chaplain to Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, GA. Fr. Johnson holds M.Div. and MA degrees from Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and is a candidate for the Licentiate in Sacred Theology from Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. He has taken courses and served as a chaplain for the Theology of the Body Institute.