Today’s Gospel occurs in the middle of Jesus’ ministry. At first, Jesus’ words seem to be about the value of self-sacrifice in a leader. “I am the Good Shepherd. I will lay down my life for the sheep.” The Apostles likely would have accepted these words easily enough. But then comes something more strange. “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. I have power to lay it down and power to take it up again.” Only later, when Jesus opened the Scriptures to them after his resurrection, would the Apostles understand his words. Only then would they understand why such an act was necessary for the salvation of the world.
Even now, we may struggle with the necessity of Holy Week. How often do we hear complaints against the silence of God, as if He is the “hired man” who “runs away” from suffering? Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is our redemption in fact. God himself bears the full weight of sin’s consequences. The Paschal Mystery is also a sign that happens in full view of the human experience. We have seen Jesus lay down his life. We have seen him accompany others. “I know mine and mine know me.” We have seen him reach those outside the traditional flock, “sheep not of this fold.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd, not only in Scripture but in our daily lives.
While we can’t experience physically walking alongside him like the Apostles did, the grace of our redemption continues through the Church. We are shepherded by the sacraments, by faith formation, by good mentors. At the same time, we are not only the sheep. In imitating Jesus, we, too, are invited to lay down our lives for others. We can be the hands, feet, and shepherd’s crook of Christ.
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