Acts 4:8-12; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18
There is the story of a particular census taker who went to a poor home in the mountains of West Virginia to gather information. He asked the mother how many children she had. The woman began, "Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey. There's Johnny, and Harvey, and our dog, Willie. The census taker interrupted her aid said: "No, ma'am, that's not necessary. I only need the humans. "Ah," she said. And began to pronounce the names of the children. Once again, the census taker interrupted her and said, "No, ma'am, I just need the numbers." The old woman replied, "But I don't know them by numbers. I only know them by name." In today's gospel Jesus the good shepherd says that he knows his sheep by name.
"The Unknown Citizen" is a parody of the "The Unknown Soldier," a term used to recognize people whose bodies are found after a battle but cannot be identified. The U.S. Army uses metal dog tags to identify soldiers, who are killed in action, but these tags can be lost or melted, and sometimes it's just impossible to locate or identify a person's remains. In this case, many countries use the concept of the "Unknown Soldier" to acknowledge the sacrifice of soldiers who die anonymously. France placed a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier under the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris; England has one in Westminster Abbey; and the United States has one in Arlington National Cemetery.
The concept of "The Unknown Citizen" suggests that the lives of many normal people are so conventional and uneventful that they might as well be unknown or anonymous. They're just an empty suit or a face in the crowd. But for Jesus everyone is precious. He knows them by name.
The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The scripture lessons are about shepherds. On this Sunday we reflect on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, devotedly taking care of his flock.
In the Old Testament, the image of the Shepherd is often applied to God as well as to the leaders of the people. The book of Exodus several times calls Yahweh a shepherd. Likewise, the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh's care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd. Ezekiel represents God as a loving shepherd who searches diligently for the lost sheep.
In the New Testament Jesus introduces himself as the good shepherd of his flock. Just as the Palestinian shepherds knew each sheep of their flock by name, and the sheep knew their shepherd and his voice, even so Jesus knows each one of us, our needs, our merits and our faults. He loves us as we are, with all our limitations. The greatest expression of his love was his death on the cross. He expects us to return his love in the little ways we can.
We applaud when a man or woman gives his or her life for another. Such instances do come along from time to time. Former NFL football player Jerry Anderson died after pulling two young boys out of a rain-swollen river about 40 miles southeast of Nashville. Witnesses said Anderson saw two boys, about 11 or 12 years old, attempting to cross a dam spanning the river. One or both boys fell into the water. According to Officer Bill Todd, Anderson jumped in the water and managed to get the little boys out, but he didn't come back up. He gave his life to rescue two small boys.
In a Middle school in the Ukrainian village of Ivanichi a young teacher died sometime back. He absorbed the blast of a hand grenade to protect his pupils. Many years ago a woman carrying a baby through the hills of South Wales, England, was overtaken by a blizzard. Searchers found her later frozen to death in the snow. Amazed that she had on no outer garments, they searched further and found her baby. She had wrapped them around the child, who was still alive and well. He grew up to be David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
When the good shepherd is even ready to give up his life, as good sheep we should stay close to the shepherd so as to be defended by him.