In today’s first reading from Ezekiel, the Lord proclaims that he himself will come and tend his sheep, succeeding where others have failed. This prophecy is fulfilled not simply by sending an emissary, but rather remarkably by the coming of God himself as man, in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus identified himself as the Good Shepherd in his lifetime and lived his days fulfilling this prophecy through his words and deeds. The final verification was his glorious resurrection from the dead. Through this last act he can now securely shepherd the sheep that follow him safely into eternal life where “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” for each of us.
Christ continues to shepherd. This is done most vividly through his holy church, especially through the inspired teaching office of the pope and bishops. He also shepherds us with great love and example through the grace-filled sacraments. He even comes as shepherd through the hearts of those Christians who are open to his movements. Every baptized soul is graced with the presence of the living God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian who moves to heal, bind and seek out the lost is allowing the Good Shepherd to continue his mission through them. The prophecy is fulfilled with each Christian’s willingness to partner with God in spreading his work of salvation. There is a joy that comes in partnering with God and he pronounces blessed those who do so.
But what of those who don’t care about others? Those who can’t be bothered right now and walk past the lost, the wounded, the straying, the unborn, the frightened and the weak? “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me. And these will go off to eternal punishment.” Case closed. It is haunting that there is limited space for rebuttal at the end. Salvation is tied to responding to my neighbor now. Tomorrow is gone and entrusted to the mercy of God, but we still have today to set things right with God.
What if I can’t serve anymore? What if I am too weak or wounded to clothe the naked or tend to the sick? Then perhaps my role becomes, in one of the greatest mysteries of our existence, that of allowing Christ to be served in me, in my wounded and hurting self.
When we find ourselves in a position of need or dependency we become the suffering Christ. Few seek this role, but it comes to many. It is very difficult, but to those who call to him, he comes and bears this cross with us. In this union with him, the work of redemption continues through our own suffering. We do not know the length of our own walk to Calvary, but we do know that if we walk it with him, it yields resurrection from the dead. “For just in Adam all die, so will in Christ will all be brought to life.”
Questions for Reflection
1. Why is it difficult to be served by others?
2. For whom or what do I offer my suffering?
3. How am I parterning with God in the work of salvation?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.