One of my favorite Bible illustrations, when I was growing up, was a picture painted by Alford Usher Soord, British painter (1868-1915), of “The Parable of The Lost Sheep.” It depicts a lamb stranded halfway down a steep cliff with the shepherd hanging perilously over the edge. He risking his own life to save it. A raptor swooped in to grab the lamb as the Good Shepherd stretched out his hand to save it. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd. He who has come that the sheep might have life and have it more abundantly.
In this Gospel he is fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel 34 which says the LORD God will himself take the place of leaders in Israel’s history who have stolen, slaughtered and scattered, shepherds who came only to steal and destroy.(Jer 23:1-3, Ezek 34:1-10) ‘Abundantly’ is an adverb which suggests overflowing beyond measure, an example of which is given in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be put into your lap.”
Psalm 23 begins: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” You can probably know by heart the rest of the 6 verses of this favorite psalm. It beautifully tells us what the divine shepherd does for his flock. The Good Shepherd is there with his sheep in the darkest times of danger leading, guarding, feeding, and comforting. Jesus said three times in John 10 that the Good Shepherd will “lay down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11,15,17). The abundant life Jesus is talking about comes at the price of his life.
St. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:6-11 that The Creator of the Universe, the ground of all being, the second person of the Trinity, though he was in the form of God, did not think equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, became a man. Jesus gave up heaven to be clothed in our humanity, to experience every aspect of our existence. He was like us in all things except sin. And then he died for the sheep of the world. Through his life, death, and resurrection he became the door to the most intimate relationship with the Trinity. Because Jesus freely offered everything of himself to redeem the world from sin, God has highly exalted him, giving him the name that is above every other name in heaven, on earth and under the earth so that at Jesus’ name, everyone should bow, and every tongue confess.
After his ascension, the Son and the Father sent down the Holy Spirit to empower his disciples with virtues and powers to build up the Church. And to spread the Good News about the Good Shepherd. Now this is an abundance we can hardly fathom, sons and daughters of God, because of our baptism with fire and water. The web of death, which has entangled humanity since Adam and Eve sinned, could only be destroyed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He, who poured out his life blood. So that we might have this eternal life, instead of eternal damnation in hell, apart from God.
Abundant life is given to us in all of the sacraments of the Catholic Church. They have their origin and ongoing source from the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be washed in the waters of baptism, anointed with the oils of confirmation and healing. Feed at the Lord’s table, and beg for reconciliation at confession. Abundant life is available to Jews and Gentiles (the other sheep) alike through the Holy Spirit. Imitating Jesus Christ, who gave up everything to reconcile God and humanity, Christian disciples must constantly give away this abundant life. Grace grasped falls through the fingers and is lost.
Do you long for this abundant life? Then, follow the Good Shepherd. Die with him daily so that you may continually rise with him, allowing him to live in you! He is the way, the truth, and the life!