The Good Shepherd, Again

4th Sunday of Easter

The story of Jesus the Good Shepherd is one with which we are very familiar. Every fourth Sunday in the season of Easter we read it. Psalm 23 is one of the first ones we learn as a child. Every now and then it pops up as a recurring theme during the summer months. While it is a very important lesson it is very easy for us to get bored and complacent when we hear it all the time. So it was a nice surprise when casting about for something different that I came across this passage in the Roman Catholic daily office.

When the Anglican church broke away Archbishop Cranmer looked at the various services that monks and the priests recited before most of us wake up and mushed them all up into a single service of morning prayer. If you have ever wondered why it seemed like you were repeating things you already said it is because you were literally starting a second service in the middle of the first one. When all the revisions and fights, both in the English parliament and on the street corners, were done we were left with a service where we recited two or three psalms and read two giant portions of the bible every day. When the Anglican Church decided to update the service we upped the number of readings but reduced their overall length. When Vatican II happened the Roman Catholic church looked at those services that Archbishop Cranmer stole and did their own update. Like us they have morning and evening prayer but their version only recites psalms and says a sequence of prayers. They decided to keep things split apart by creating the Office of Readings which you can say whenever you want instead of forcing it at a specific time of the day. Our services include two or three passages from the Bible, depending on which book you happen to use. They decided to use one passage from the Bible and another, usually related to the Bible passage, from the giant amount of writings that make up the history of the church. There are, as with most fights in Christianity, distinct theological reasons for each method.1 I am going to follow my own theological reasons and ignore the fight entirely2 and read the passage that I found interesting simply because I find it presents a slightly different perspective on the whole matter.

From a homily on the Gospels by Saint Gregory the Great, Pope3
I am the good shepherd. I know my own – by which I mean, I love them – and my own know me. In plain words: those who love me are willing to follow me, for anyone who does not love the truth has not yet come to know it.

My dear brethren, you have heard the test we pastors have to undergo. Turn now to consider how these words of our Lord imply a test for yourselves also. Ask yourselves whether you belong to his flock, whether you know him, whether the light of his truth shines in your minds. I assure you that it is not by faith that you will come to know him, but by love; not by mere conviction, but by action. John the evangelist is my authority for this statement. He tells us that anyone who claims to know God without keeping his commandments is a liar.

Consequently, the Lord immediately adds: As the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. Clearly he means that laying down his life for his sheep gives evidence of his knowledge of the Father and the Father’s knowledge of him. In other words, by the love with which he dies for his sheep he shows how greatly he loves his Father.

Again he says: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them; they follow me, and I give them eternal life. Shortly before this he had declared: If anyone enters the sheepfold through me he shall be saved; he shall go freely in and out and shall find good pasture. He will enter into a life of faith; from faith he will go out to vision, from belief to contemplation, and will graze in the good pastures of everlasting life.

So our Lord’s sheep will finally reach their grazing ground where all who follow him in simplicity of heart will feed on the green pastures of eternity. These pastures are the spiritual joys of heaven. There the elect look upon the face of God with unclouded vision and feast at the banquet of life for ever more.

Beloved brothers, let us set out for these pastures where we shall keep joyful festival with so many of our fellow citizens. May the thought of their happiness urge us on! Let us stir up our hearts, rekindle our faith, and long eagerly for what heaven has in store for us. To love thus is to be already on our way. No matter what obstacles we encounter, we must not allow them to turn us aside from the joy of that heavenly feast. Anyone who is determined to reach his destination is not deterred by the roughness of the road that leads to it. Nor must we allow the charm of success to seduce us, or we shall be like a foolish traveler who is so distracted by the pleasant meadows through which he is passing that he forgets where he is going.


I think the part of this homily that intrigues me most is the contrasting points of failure it presents. Much in keeping with the epistle lesson we are not to be deterred by the roughness of the road, by the pain and suffering that might come from keeping the faith. Gregory realizes though that there is a portion of the population that doesn’t have that much in the way of pain and suffering on account of the Gospel anymore. We do not live in constant fear for our lives simply by walking through the front doors of the church. We do not stand up and recite the Apostle’s Creed as an act of rebellion. Are there places where these are true? Yes, but right here is not one of them. As such, I find it difficult to relate to the epistle on a personal level. That is why I enjoy this contrasting image. “Nor must we allow the charm of success to seduce us, or we shall be like a foolish traveler who is so distracted by the pleasant meadows through which he is passing that he forgets where he is going.” We are in the sheepfold. We have listened to the voice of the Shepherd. We have entered through the gate to be saved and exit through the gate to find pastures. We are not supposed to let that be the be all and end all of our existence. We cannot look at the fact that we come to church as a success. We cannot look at being baptized as a success. We cannot take the being able to take the Eucharist as a success. They are steps along the path but they are not the destination.


  1. Sola scriptura, prima scriptura, and the fidei depositum of sacred scripture and sacred tradition is a graduate level course in and of itself. 

  2. In the interests of footnoted honesty, however, I find sola incompatible with an advanced literature degree and history of the first to third centuries CE, the magisterium untrustworthy for various reasons that probably begin with the Peter Abelard/Bernard of Clairvaux fight or lack thereof, and have experienced too much of the destructive nature of Pentecostal Christianity to agree with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. I’m a three-legged stool Anglican almost by default.  

  3.  Source: Office of Readings. Sunday May 7, 2017