Saint Peter’s epistle, of which we read a portion this morning, was written to the newly converted Christians who lived in the land we would today call Turkey. It was intended to encourage them to remain fast in the Faith, even though many of their neighbors mocked and persecuted them for believing in Jesus Christ. In writing today’s passage, Peter quoted and borrowed heavily from the Old Testament Prophet Isaias. He seems to assume that his readers are familiar with the writing of the Prophet.
You may know that Isaias, prophesied during the very turbulent time in Jewish history known as “the Exile.” Around seven hundred years before Christ, the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom known as Israel, and about twenty years later the Babylonians began attacking the southern kingdom known as Juda, which contained the holy city of Jerusalem, and the very Temple in which God dwelt on earth. Ultimately, both kingdoms would be decimated, and the people carried off into captivity for the better part of a century.
Thus, Saint Peter and the Prophet Isaias both lived in times during which God’s faithful people endured serious persecution. But, in addition to persecution, they held in common a prophetic relationship to Jesus Christ as the Messias—the deliverer of Israel, and of all mankind from the bondage of sin. Isaias predicted Him, and Peter gave witness to Him. Peter’s letter quotes a passage in Isaias that can only be descriptive of the suffering Savior whom God promised to send those seven hundred years after Isaias. Let me read you a few verses from Isaias’ fifty-third chapter:
and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and
His look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed Him not.
When we read the Gospel we should be impressed by the fact that this “Sheep who would be led to slaughter,” and who would “lay down His life for sin,” identified Himself as “the Good Shepherd, who would lay down His life for His sheep.” By this account, then, He is both Sheep and Shepherd.
Coming this soon after Holy Week and Easter, we are immediately reminded that Jesus is both High Priest and Perfect Victim. As Priest, He offered Himself on our behalf to God the Father, the “Lamb” of God who would not even “open His mouth before the shearer.”
But today’s readings seem to be more concerned with our Lord, not so much as priest, but as prophet—more concerned with Him as a teacher or a role model who would form us sheep into men and women acceptable to God the Father. He came into the world so that we might become sons and daughters of God.
Some of you here today will remember Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who used to appear on television during its early days, and delivered a weekly sermon to his wide audience of Catholics and non-Catholics. Bishop Sheen reminded us that, as God, Jesus Christ is infinitely far above His human creatures—that He “emptied Himself” (to use Saint Paul’s term) when He became man. In fact, Sheen likened our Lord’s becoming man to a man who loved dogs very much; a man who wanted very much for his dogs to live a better life. But no matter how hard this man tried to explain this “better life” to his dogs, they did not listen. Indeed, they could not listen—for they were only dogs. In Bishop Sheen’s analogy, he has the dog loving man becoming a dog!—taking on the nature of a dog, walking on all fours, and barking—in order to make this “better life for dogs” known to the dogs. Jesus, according to the good bishop, did something even more extreme when He took on our nature in order to make known to us the “better life” of divine grace. Jesus became one of His sheep, in order to become the Good Shepherd.
Saint Peter, of course, is urging that we recognize that life without Christ—the life his converts used to live—was misdirected. They had been going astray—just as we go astray, if we go without Christ. But the Sheep “bore our sins in His body upon the tree (of the Cross), that we, having died to sin, might live to justice.” There was no longer any reason for Peter’s converts—and there is no longer any reason for us—to go about “as sheep going astray” for we can return “to the shepherd and guardian of our souls.” We can follow the teachings and the example of Jesus Christ, and He will nourish us, through His Sacraments, in this “better life” of divine grace.
But, there is yet another implication, which we most acknowledge in this Gospel of the Good Shepherd. “Other sheep, I have, that are not of this fold,” our Lord tells us. “Them also, I must bring, and there will be one fold and one Shepherd.” Yet, our Lord’s time on earth was limited. At just a little bit over thirty years of age, He ascended gloriously into Heaven. And, there are still “other sheep that are not of His fold.” Following His example, His “sheep” must become like Him—in a number of ways, we “sheep” must become “shepherds.”
As He told the Apostles at the Last Supper, we must love God and keep His Commandments. But there is a new Commandment: We must love one another as He loved us—even, if need be to lay down our lives for one another, for there is no greater love than that. A bit later , at the same Supper, He made His Apostles the first bishops—the priests who would have the primary responsibility for preaching to all nations; for commanding them to observe the things He taught; to believe; and to be Baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He would even build His Church upon Peter, and ask Peter to feed both His “lambs” and His “sheep”—both the clergy and the laity.
All of us “sheep” have a role in this—not just those who receive the priesthood through the Apostles. Those who have received Holy Matrimony have this obligation toward one another, and to their children, and grandchildren, and even to the families around them. Those who have been Confirmed have been made “soldiers of Christ,” a vocation which must be taken seriously. Even by our Baptism we have agreed to profess Christ, both in our words and by our example. We must offer our witness by striving to live a life that would be incomplete and meaningless without Jesus Christ.All of us “sheep” must become “shepherds,” for that is what our Lord has done. If we were once gone astray, we must return, for we are needed to help “welcome in the lost and straying sheep.” We must “return to the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls,” so that with us and through us, “they will hear His voice, and there will be one fold and one Shepherd”—the fold of the Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ.
 Epistle: 1 Peter ii: 21-25.
 Isaias liii: 3-7, 9,10 (capitalization augmented).
 Gospel: John x: 11-16.
 Cf. Philippians ii: 5-11.
 Cf. John xv: 9-14.
 Matthew xxviii: 18-20; Mark xvi: 15-18
 Matthew xvi: 13-20; John xxi: 15-17.
 Cf. Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard “To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist.” in Priests Among Men.