Fourth Sunday in Easter
Reading today’s gospel, one cannot help but be reminded of Pope Francis’ arresting statement that he made on the first chrism Mass he celebrated, where a good shepherd should “smell like the sheep.” After spending enough time with others, we take a bit of them on ourselves. We ought to be close enough to those we love and minister to that we have their odor—that their world is our world, and their concerns are our concerns. But a shepherd isn’t simply with the sheep because he likes wandering in a field.
When the Psalm speaks of God as a shepherd today, God is praised as a good shepherd for very particular reasons. “In verdant pastures He gives me repose; beside restful waters He leads me […] He guides me in right paths.” A shepherd who continuously led a flock into danger, or away from the grass and water which the sheep need to survive, would hardly be praiseworthy. Jesus promises to lead His flock to the Father. If we are to be shepherds imitating the Son, we can do no less.
But, as Jesus points out, the shepherd leads the sheep because “he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him.” Having hiked more than a few trails as a Boy Scout, I can say that trying to lead people somewhere without either a map or firsthand knowledge of the trail rarely ends well. We need to know the way, who is Jesus Himself. How much we smell like the sheep can only be exceeded by how familiar we are with the Way we must walk along to the Father.