Good Shepherd Sunday (Ages 6-9): The Gift that Gathers
(Adults, you could begin by reading the whole scripture passage to the child.)
For many of us, the parable of the Good Shepherd is one of our favourites. When the people want to know more about who Jesus is, Jesus tells them,
I am the Good Shepherd.
He tells them how the Good Shepherd knows his sheep, and calls each one of them by name. He goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. It is one of our favourite accounts in the Bible because we hear how much the Good Shepherd loves and cares for his sheep. Jesus says,
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
How good, to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd! There is nothing Jesus will not do for them.
In the Gospel for this Sunday, we hear about some other characters in the parable of the Good Shepherd.
The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.
The hired hand and the wolf--who can these characters be? Wolves are predators. For them, the sheep are food. In the parable, the wolf comes to snatch and scatter the sheep. The wolf is the opposite of the Good Shepherd, isn't it? The Good Shepherd calls and leads the sheep. He doesn't snatch them. The Good Shepherd does not scatter; he gathers. He keeps calling and keeps gathering because,
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is the plan. One flock of sheep. All the sheep together with the shepherd.
Does the hired hand help with this plan? Is the hired hand any protection against the wolf? No. The hired hand, thinking only of his or her own safety, leaves the sheep and runs away. The hired hand, Jesus says, does not care for the sheep. Obviously, the hired hand is the opposite of the Good Shepherd, too.
The Good Shepherd protects against the wolf, but how? Jesus says, over and over,
I lay down my life for the sheep.
The Good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep.
Jesus knows about the cross. The soldiers will come for him. He knows he will die. But Jesus has a choice:
He could fight like the wolf.
He could run away like the hired hand.
Or, he could choose to give his life. He could make his life a gift.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.
Jesus chooses to give.
I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.
Jesus uses his power not to fight or to save himself, but to offer his life as gift, and this makes all the difference.
God the Father commands, and Jesus is Risen from the dead, never to die again. Into this Risen life, Jesus, the Good Shepherd gathers the sheep. He gathers and gathers until,
there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is the Mystery of our Faith.
Jesus' gift of his life becomes a gathering of the sheep into one flock. We celebrate this gift every time we gather for Mass and we hear those words he speaks at the Last Supper: "This is my body. This is my blood." He gives his whole life in the bread and the wine each time we gather around the altar table--whether we are there in person or virtually! It is a gathering that we celebrate together with our Good Shepherd...until.