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Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Trust in the extraordinary care of Jesus, our Good Shepherd


Sunday Scripture readings for June 18, 2023, 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time\

Ex 19:2-6a  Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5  Rom 5:6-11  Mt 9:36-10:8

Trust in the extraordinary care of Jesus, our Good Shepherd

The Roman catacombs are unique, unlike any other place, where the faith, courage and love of the early Christians is evoked powerfully. In these ancient networks of tunnels and chambers deep beneath the eternal city of Rome one encounters early Christian images of Jesus. One remarkable third century fresco in the catacomb of Priscilla portrays Jesus as the Good Shepherd, a theme woven through this Sunday’s readings. We are led to wonder why the early Christians were so drawn to this image of Jesus.

For the first Christians, the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd served as a visual summary of faith in Jesus’ identity and his mission. It expressed, in visual form, what the first Christians accepted in faith as the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They had come to believe that Jesus was divine, the One sent to reconcile the world to God, and so, they painted the Son of God as a simple, strong shepherd carrying one lost sheep on his shoulders, while other sheep remained close to their master. They believed that in Jesus, the incarnate God drew close to his flock to rescue and restore them to the joy and peace of divine friendship.

In the first reading, God speaks tender words to Moses and the people of Israel, “You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself.” Moses and the Israelites are reminded that God was like a gentle shepherd. It was God who rescued Israel from slavery into the freedom of living as children of God.

So, the psalmist invites us to sing, “we are his people, the sheep of his flock.” And as we sing these words our trust in God grows to, “know that the Lord is God; he made us, his we are; his people, the flock he tends.”

As our good shepherd, Jesus desires to stay close to us. He longs to rescue us from the power of alienation and sin that is part of human living. And Jesus was willing to do that with his very life. As Saint Paul teaches the Romans, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

In the Gospel we hear words that must have inspired the early Christians — certainly enough to depict Jesus as the Good Shepherd on the walls of the ancient catacombs. Matthew tells us that, “At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” After calling his 12 apostles and giving them spiritual authority to drive out unclean spirits and to cure every disease and every illness, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gives them the ministry of shepherding all people in need when he says, “Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

As we journey through these weeks of Ordinary Time may we encounter and trust in the extraordinary care of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who guides us to the loving mercy of God, both personally and as members of his body, the church. In him we find the providential care, protection, and guidance we long for, as we say in faith, “speak to me, Lord.”

Question: What does the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd mean to you?

Jem Sullivan holds a doctorate in religious education and is an associate professor of Catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.