Sermon on The Good Shepherd (John 10:11-16)
given by Fr. Dennis Kolinski, SJC
St. Stanislaus Church in New Haven, CT
The Second Sunday after Easter, 14 April 2013
The readings, which we hear every Sunday during Mass come from a different time and different culture, but they, nonetheless, tell us about things, which are still current. Perhaps, the context is different, but human nature has not changed. Listening to the Holy Scriptures we should see not only prophets and apostles, Jews and Greeks but also ourselves. Sometimes we see the connection right away but sometimes it isn’t as readily apparent. But the words of Scripture are words, which should always speak directly to us.
For instance, in today’s gospel from St. John Christ calls Himself the Good Shepherd and us His sheep. “I am the Good Shepherd; a good shepherd is ready to lay down his life for his sheep. … I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own and my own know me. … they will heed my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”1 And in his first epistle St. Peter, the head shepherd of the Church after Christ’s Ascension into heaven, continued the same analogy that his Master used, writing, “For you were once like straying sheep, but now you have turned back to the Shepherd who watches over your souls.”2
Christ spoke about us this way because we are really very similar to sheep, which are very helpless animals. They need a sheepherder to constantly lead them to water and to pasture. Sometimes they wander far away from the flock and get lost. They can’t defend themselves. They can’t quite seem to make it on their own and are reliant on the shepherd for so many aspects of their existence. This doesn’t present a very flattering picture of how we are, but nonetheless, when we rely only on ourselves we are really very similar to sheep—helpless in many everyday matters and sometimes just plain stupid in some of the things that we do. We are constantly getting lost in the matters of this world and our earthly shepherds, who are acting in the name of the Supreme Shepherd, lead us back on the right road time and time again—just like sheep.
Christ remains the One True Shepherd of our souls, as both St. John and St. Peter wrote, but He knew that we would still need visible shepherds on this earth and that’s why He appointed other shepherds to act in His name, to take His place here on earth after He ascended to His Father in heaven. He left behind priests and bishops, who are called “pastors” from the Latin word for “shepherd.” And above all, He entrusted His sheep in a special way to the pope as His chief shepherd on earth.
There are those, however, who find themselves being led, not by the Good Shepherd and His appointed co-workers, but as St. John writes, by a “hired man,” who allows the wolf to ravage the flock and scatter the sheep, “for the hired man is not their shepherd and they are not his sheep.”3 The hired man is a false shepherd and the wolf that ravages the flock is the Devil.
We unfortunately have many false shepherds today and many of the sheep are being scattered. These false shepherds often imitate the voice of the True Shepherd and this is what makes them so dangerous. They fool the sheep into thinking that they are safe with them, but they actually lead them outside of the sheepfold, where they are left unprotected from attacks by the wolf. How many Catholics have been led astray by faulty or watered-down teachings? Many of them have believed their shepherds in good faith, just like sheep, not realizing that they have been led out of the fold.
And how many traditional Catholics have also been led astray because of those, who look like a true shepherd, or sound like a true shepherd, or act like a true shepherd, but are really only false shepherds, who are acting, not on the authority of the One True Shepherd, but only on their own authority? Beware! Just because it look right doesn’t mean that you are safe from false shepherds, who have also led many of Christ’s sheep astray under the pretext of tradition and orthodoxy.
Those, who have been seduced by false shepherds, find themselves outside of the sheepfold, no longer protected by the walls of the enclosure, which help guard against the attacks of the wolf. We have only one true shepherd here on earth that legitimately acts in the name of the Good Shepherd and that is Peter. And where Peter is, there is the Church. Whoever is not solidly with Peter is only a false shepherd, who “has no concern for the sheep.”4And if you aren’t solidly with Peter, then you’re acting like a Protestant, who is merely a sheep shepherding himself.
There will always be those, who don’t want to listen to the True Shepherd and lose their way. Modern man doesn’t like to think that he needs someone else’s guidance, much less someone to lead him. Modern man thinks that he is intelligent enough to decide for himself what is right. He doesn’t want to be shepherded and feels that he can lead himself. Wandering about thinking that he can shepherd himself and make his own decisions he may run into someone, who suits his own needs, thinking that this is a true shepherd. But before he knows it, he has wandered so far away from the flock that he can’t find his way back. This is precisely why Christ called us sheep and that’s why He said that we need a shepherd.
If we don’t find ourselves firmly within the sheepfold of the Church under its chief shepherd, our enemy, whose name is Satan, will sneak in and steal our souls. Because if we aren’t listening to the voice of the one, whom Christ left here to tend His flock in His place, then we are not listening to Christ. We must always be sure that we are the sheep, who listen to the Good Shepherd and follow Him, for if we aren’t we will we find out only too late that we have become the goats, who were separated from the sheep because they listened to the voice of another shepherd.
Christ called us His sheep and said that He is the Good Shepherd, who is ready to lay down His life for His sheep. He said, “I know my own and my own know me.”5 His sheep recognize His voice and follow Him. “For you were once like straying sheep, but now you have turned back to the Shepherd who watches over your souls.”6 Let us always make sure that we remain within His flock. Let us always make sure that it is His voice that we are following, for then “there will be one flock and one shepherd.”7
1 John 10:11-16.
2 1 Peter 2:25.
3 John 10:12.
4 John 10:13.
5 John 10:14.
6 1 Peter 2:25.
7 John 10:16.