The Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter is St. John is describing Jesus’ love for his people by using the imagery of the Good Shephard. Because most people do not live an agrarian lifestyle, some of the major elements of St. John’s description can be missed.
Importantly, what St. John wishes to convey to his readers is the intimate connection a shepherd has with his sheep. The shepherd would protect his sheep with his life, if necessary. By protecting them in such a way, John establishes a bond so strong it mimics the relationship of loyalty and love which can be see between healthy members of a family.
More subtly, St. John also wishes to instruct us on the inequity which exists between a human shepherd and an inferior animal. Clearly, the reference is used to show the disparity between Jesus, who is the Son of God, and his creatures–fallible and weak human beings. Jesus obediently gave up his life up for an inferior being, much like a shepherd giving up his life for his sheep.
The message is now becoming clearer. It is not too difficult for the faithful to believe in God. Many facts and circumstances in life point to the reality of something greater than myself. Taken even further, it’s not even hard to believe God loves me. For some, these basic beliefs are all which constitutes their faith life.
Believing in God and his love as a faith foundation can be a very superficial faith. It lacks the understanding of the profound message of God’s love and grace. What is not superficial and more difficult to believe is what St. John tells us in the Epistle, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us in letting us be called children of God! Yet that is what we are” (1 Jn 3:1).
A healthy faith demands we believe we are children of God. And when the faith is strong and mature, our lives change dramatically because it makes a difference on how we live our lives. As a full-blown member of God’s family, our own expectations should change because we want to live as a member of the family instead of an outsider. Too many of us still live as outsiders, not worthy of the rank of a family member. There is very little obligation or motivation to live better lives if we still consider ourselves as outsiders. The outsider status is the fertile soil in which disbelief thrives.
The constant challenge of living a virtuous life is to believe God loves me and calls me his own child. To really believe this is the first stage in God’s beautiful plan for my life. The second stage is what St. John informs us about what’s next to happen: “…we shall be like him, for we shall him as he is…” (1 Jn 3:20). Then the circle will be closed and it will be the perfect completion of our destiny.