Sunday 21 April 2024 Fourth Sunday of Easter
A good job well done
Acts: 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
Context: Mass in a busy, ethnically diverse Catholic parish with a mix of families, elderly, young people and a range of worship styles
Aim: to recognise and emphasise just how far Jesus goes to prove how valued we all are
A FAMILIAR JOB THROUGHOUT THE AGES
At the time when Jesus was walking the roads of Nazareth, there would have been many tradespeople whose jobs we wouldn’t either recognise or find useful today. From gladiators to balniators (the people who kept Roman public baths) there are many roles you wouldn’t find on a modern jobs’ website. In our Gospel, Jesus describes himself as a shepherd. That’s a job that even today, over two centuries since the industrial revolution, most people recognise - even if today there might be a collie and a quad bike involved. It’s just as well that Jesus describes himself as a shepherd, rather than, say, a balniator, because it is something we can still relate to.
But it’s not enough for Jesus to describe himself as a shepherd. No, he is The Good Shepherd and to emphasise what this means we’re given a comparison with what isn’t a very good shepherd. Not terrible, but not good either. The hired hand, the one who isn’t very committed to the job, who goes through the motions and does the basics but heads off as soon as it gets tricky. We’ve all encountered people like that and we’ve likely been guilty of being that person, too, at times.
GETTING BUY IN
Big companies talk about getting their staff to be committed to their work as ‘taking ownership’, or about getting ‘buy in’. Usually, they don’t actually mean giving the business to their staff; it’s a metaphor for wanting staff to act like they are owners. It’s well understood that staff who are fully engaged in their work do their jobs better and that is better for staff, the business and its customers. In our Gospel, Jesus is the ultimate model staff member, doing what his Father has sent him for with full commitment.
But the focus of this Gospel isn’t on Jesus, but on us. ‘I know my own’ says Jesus and we are his own. A Good Shepherd doesn’t focus on him or herself but on the sheep and Jesus focuses on us. All of us. What an enormous flock. And despite being just one of a gigantic flock, this doesn’t diminish any of us. Each one of us is precious, protected and worth giving his life for.
ANOVE AND BEYOND
As Christians we know that Jesus the Good Shepherd is shepherd to a flock of billions – those alive now, those who have gone before us and those who are not yet born. And yet each of us has his full attention and care. It’s a wonderful and mysterious contradiction. In our day-to-day lives, the pressure to be special or outstanding can be strong. But we don’t have to do anything to be special. We simply are special because God has made each one of us so.
Often Jesus is set up as an example of how we are supposed to be. We are told to model ourselves on Jesus. But this Gospel isn’t one of those times. Our job here is just to be cared for and loved. We can be his sheep. We’re not being asked for ‘buy in’ or to go ‘above and beyond’ in our strenuous efforts. That’s what Jesus is doing for us. Our role today is to accept that boundless, generous grace and accept that each of us is special and valued.
Jesus speaks about how far he is willing to go in his care for us. He knows that he will be laying down his life for us. And in doing this Jesus is showing how much further he is willing to go for us than he asks of us.
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