Note: These Sunday & Holy Day Gospel Reflections are written so that mothers may prepare for Holy Mass in advance either as a small group or individually (especially since we are so often necessarily distracted during Mass itself).
"I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and 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.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father."
Wow! We are loved this much! I have been greatly inspired to teach my children this Gospel passage over and over again. We have a beautiful image of the Good Shepherd on our prayer table, and I try to remind them repeatedly that Jesus is watching out for them.
Reading the Gospel for me, though, is very comforting. Jesus explains that He will not ever abandon us. He will fight the good fight to save us. He will - and has - even give up His life for us.
He knows us intimately --- "just as the Father knows me and I know the Father." Think about the last flock of sheep you saw. Could you tell them apart? Yet, an experienced shepherd knows his sheep, and they know him apart from any other voice or call. There is nothing about our lives, our thoughts, our souls that Jesus does not know. When we feel ashamed to go to Him, He knows and still waits for us. He knows us as perfectly as Jesus knows God the Father; they are one!
At the end of this passage, the Lord points out His own free will. God Himself chose willingly to lay down His life for us. No one, nothing, not even satan forced Him to do this. There were many other ways He could have crushed satan, but He chose to love us this much. He receives no pay for His work; it is purely out of love that He cares for us. There is no reward but love and devotion in return.
Amazingly, He even cares for the sheep who do not recognize His voice. Can you imagine how difficult it must be for a shepherd to lead sheep who do not know him? Likewise, our Good Shepherd lives to love each one of us, regardless of our inadequacies. He wants to protect each precious soul. He is the Good Shepherd.
Lord, I want to be a part of your flock. I want to know you and know your voice. Please send me the grace to remember you as my Good Shepherd, to rely on your protection through the daily trials of my life. When the wolf comes, remind me of this image, so I might not fear but have trust in your awesome power.