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Monday, May 04, 2009

The Good Shepherd Lives

Last weekend we celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday, and I spent that day working on a paper on Luke-Acts for my New Testament class.

As I read again the narrative of the birth of Christ, suddenly I was struck by the fact, and the inherent symbolism of those first told of the birth of Our Lord: the Shepherds.

His very birth itself, the very location, of course, makes this call to the Shepherds obvious, for Jesus was not born into a pristine stable akin to the ones found at Churchill Downs, but rather, a cave. The caves that skirt Bethlehem, to this day, are used in the same way; to protect the flocks at night. This is where Jesus Christ was born.

Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, was born in a place used to shelter sheep, and was placed in a wooden manger, from which those sheep might be fed.

St. Leo the Great declared that the wood of the manger is that of the wood of the Cross, so we see that immediately from birth, our Good Shepherd was being prepared, as the gospels say, to lay down his life for his sheep.

Yet there is another connection; the Shepherds themselves. The Angelic messengers were sent to the Shepherds by God to call them to the side of Christ as He lay in the manger.

Are you seeing what I am seeing? Are you seeing the pattern emerging?

The Shepherds...shepherds...were CALLED by God (via the Angels), to go to the side of Christ as He lay in the manger.

The Shepherds were called to the SIDE OF CHRIST. 

33 years later, the Church would be born out of that precious side, from the very act Jesus proclaimed in the gospels in such eloquent terms; for Jesus is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the flock. He laid down on the Cross, and then was lifted up, drawing all men to Himself, and there, from His pierced side, the Church was born.

What did the Shepherds do when they left the side of the Infant Jesus? They proclaimed the Good News, the birth of the Messiah. They proclaimed the miracle. They were first called by God, and then sent to fulfill His will. The Shepherds...proclaiming the Good Shepherd who was born amidst a flock and laid in the wood of the manger. (Luke 1:8-20)

But there's more, isn't there? What is the Priesthood? Who are the Bishops? 

Pastors. Shepherds.

Who proclaim the good news and by laying down their own lives, they lead us through the Cross and into Eternal Salvation.  

Have you seen a Bishop's crosier lately?

Just as the Shepherds were called to the side of Christ and sent to proclaim the good news of His birth, so was the Church born out of the side of Christ, Apostles called to the scene of His Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit sent to the Apostles to continue the saving mission of Christ:  to preach the Good News, to bring Christ to the world, yet in a perfect fulfillment of the New Covenant. For the Shepherds today, too, are called to proclaim the Gospel, but with a profound authority that can be given only by God to those whom He calls, they bring Jesus Christ to His people, for it is the Good Shepherd Himself who continues to feed His flock through their hands. 

Just as the call to the Shepherds in Luke was expressed through the Angelic messengers, so today is the call and the authority passed on today through Holy Orders, for God speaks clearly through those to whom He gave the authority. (John 20:21 ff,  Luke 9: 1-2,  Acts 6:6)

It is this image, this proleptic image of the shepherds called to the side of the Infant Jesus that struck me on Sunday as I realized the eternal call of Christ to those who would Shepherd in His place, in His name, through His direct authority.  

In and through them, the Good Shepherd is brought to us, is fed to us, body, blood, soul, and divinity.  They, who have been called to the side of Christ, to enter into His wounds, to become one with Him, so that we might all have life within us.
If there were no Shepherds to offer the Sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, to come after us when we are lost, to call us again to the side of the Good Shepherd, we would be lost forever.  We would be taken by the wolves that roam so freely.  

We know our Good Shepherd, and we know those who stand in His place, and through them, we heed His voice and are fed, not just the Word, but the entirety of salvation. 

Our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ the High Priest, did not lay down His life in vain, but continues to live through those He has chosen and who have answered that Call.  He comes to us through their consecrated hands, made present among us and uniting us in Holy Communion of His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.  Jesus claims us as His own through Baptism, completed in Confirmation, and speaks through His Priests in the Sacrament of Confession. He passes His authority through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  He heals and brings salvation to us through the Sacrament of the Sick. 
All through the hands and authority of those chosen to Shepherd and guide we, His flock.  

Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of your Priesthood, and for all those you have chosen and called to serve in your place.  



Rob said...

Thank you. Your post opened up some great new images to contemplate.

Kurt H said...

As long as you're on the theme, don't forget that He is also the Lamb and the gate of the sheepfold, and that at the judgement, He will separate the sheep from the goats

uncle jim said...

my favorite two-book series: Luke and Acts

when i had my 'spiritual reawakening' in my early to middle 30's i had an immediate hunger to read scripture ... my first book? the Acts of the apostles

Anonymous said...

In my New Testament class I'm working on a paper on Mark

Adoro said...

RJW ~ Well, God opened up several for me, too! lol

Kurt ~ True, but I'm focusing here more on the priesthood aspect, not the judgment aspect. I probably won't be doing a follow up post...maybe you'll want to address judgment on your blog? It's an important teaching, and one that oft gets ignored.

Uncle Jim ~ Ironic...because Acts was used in my Confirmation class, I always thought it boring. Am loving it now, some great stuff in there!

Mayyoufindstrength ~ Oh, last month I did a paper on that. If you love MT, get your hands on a copy of St. Jerome's Commentary on Matthew, newly translated into English by Dr. Thomas Scheck. I believe the publisher is Catholic University. :-)