I myself will look after my sheep... I shall pasture them on the mountains of Israel... I shall feed them in good pasturage. The words of God to the prophet Ezekiel we heard in our first reading today echo the very familiar Psalm 22(23), traditionally ascribed to King David. The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.
This Psalm certainly bears frequent repetition, and meditation. We love to think of Jesus singing it to his heavenly Father, making every word of it his own. But also, we can think of Jesus himself as the Lord who is my Shepherd. When he calls himself the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11), Jesus is not just claiming to be the Messiah. He is claiming to do what God does; to stand for us in the place of God; to have towards us the relationship that God has. On the Feast of the Sacred Heart we remember especially how God in Christ loves not just humanity in general, but me personally. Jesus loves me; he died for me; he cares for me; he comes looking for me.
Of course the task of a Shepherd is to gather his sheep together into one flock. So Jesus calls all of us into the unity and communion of his Church. But today’s Gospel parable makes very clear: if one individual is lost, he seeks it out. Since I’m that individual, I can be sure that Jesus seeks me out; he takes me up on his own shoulders, and personally carries me back home.
The Psalmist himself joyfully sings, not just that the Lord is our Shepherd, but he is my Shepherd. And because the Lord is my Shepherd, he concludes, I shall want for nothing. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us not to be anxious about tomorrow: what we are to eat, what we are to drink, what we are to wear (Mt 6:31). Yes, God knows we need all these things, and he provides for them all with marvellous generosity. So the Psalmist sings about green grass, and refreshing streams, and an abundant banquet, and glistening oil, and a full cup; and it’s all true. God is good, and what he gives us is very good, and we are indeed grateful. Nevertheless, as Jesus insists: our hearts are not to be set on these things, but on the Kingdom. Because, if only we knew it, our greatest need is precisely for Jesus himself; for God; for eternal life. And for the sake of this, Jesus is ready to entrust us also with some share in his own Cross. So sometimes he draws us towards ever closer conformity to himself through affliction, sorrow, loss, even death. It’s the martyrs above all who teach us how to understand this. They were ready to renounce everything for the sake of Jesus, even life itself, and when the moment came they could cry out with total conviction: My cup truly overflows! In you Lord I have everything I could ever want, and I am glad in that!!
The Sacred Heart of Jesus, we know, is surrounded by thorns. He had to endure great suffering as a result of our sins. Blasphemies and outrages were and are hurled against one who is all pure, all loving, all good, all merciful. Today’s readings though invite us to reflect especially on the joy of the Sacred Heart. When Jesus finally brings each of us to heaven, his joy will be complete. Then he will say: all I endured for you was more than worth it! Now at last I have you safely here with me!
Our second reading today was the famous passage from Romans Chapter 5, where St. Paul holds up Christ’s death for us sinners as definitive proof of God’s love. But the weight of Paul’s rhetoric actually falls here not on Christ’s death, but on his present state in glory. Christ’s death gives us the irrefutable ground for our confidence. But this is Paul’s point: because of that, and now that he is alive forever, his present love cannot possibly be doubted! And therefore, Paul cries, we must live in permanent joyful trust. Christ the Lord is on our side; he is our Saviour; he has already completed the work of reconciling us to God. Now we are certain he is with us and in us. What remains in store is the unimaginably wonderful reward given to all who are united with him.
The Lord is my Shepherd, sings the Psalmist, there is nothing I shall want... If I should walk even in the valley of the shadow of death, no evil would I fear. For you are with me; your rod and your staff give me comfort. We very naturally and rightly turn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus when everything seems dark, and death itself beckons. Perhaps then above all we understand and experience what it means for the Lord to be with us. Jesus himself went through death, so he is with us even there; and there he invites us to choose to be with him. But beyond and through that solidarity in death, we have the ever present love of Jesus: more precious, more valuable to us than everything else whatever. This love of Jesus accompanies and sustains us at every moment of our life, especially when we most need it. It’s our consolation, and our strength. Jesus we know will never abandon us. Nothing whatever can separate us from his love; this love which is a limitless ocean, pouring out of and also contained within his Sacred Heart. Having that, even if we have nothing else whatever, we have enough, and more than enough.
The beautiful final verse of Psalms 22 points to the difference that Christ’s love makes to our lives. Yes, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. With King David, even as we rejoice in present blessings, we look no less joyfully to our future. We don’t know what in detail that will bring us; except that most certainly we shall die, and most certainly we shall be followed by divine goodness and mercy. This goodness and mercy of God was revealed, proved, mediated, poured out in Christ Jesus our Lord, especially in his saving Cross, and it comes to us through the love of his most Sacred Heart.
The Psalm concludes with a glance from earth to heaven, and from time to eternity. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord - surely also in the Heart of the Lord - for ever.