4th Sunday Easter: Good Shepherd

This Sunday the Story of the Good Shepherd according to John is read. The painting of Matthew 9:35-37 might be a suitable replacement. The artist pictures Jesus with the cross of a shepherd.

Matthew 9:35-37

9:35     Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages,

teaching in their synagogues,

proclaiming the good news of the kingdom

and curing all kinds of disease and all kinds of illness.

9:36     And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them

because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.

9:37     Then he said to his disciples,

'The harvest is rich but the labourers are few,

so ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers to his harvest.'


These verses contain a summary of Jesus’ first actions in Matthew’s Gospel. After his first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), he started his Messianic work: the healing and helping of disabled people (chapters 8 - 9).

These healings made clear that the spirit from heaven which he received during his baptism (3:16-17) was stronger than any evil spirit; even stronger than the evil spirits in the forces of storm and sea which threaten people (9:23-27).

It is good to remember that in Biblical culture all visible appearances are conceived as a work of invisible forces and spirits. What threatens people or what makes them sick comes from the evil spirit. All that is beneficial comes from the healing spirit of God.


The word ‘Good News’ (‘eu-angelion’: literally: ‘Good Message’) is crucial. It is a citation of the prophet Isaiah. We come across it in his prophesies three times.

When we take together these three prophesies, then the content of the word ‘Good Message’ is: God himself will come to Jerusalem (40:9-10) to found his definitive Kingship there (52:7).

He will realise that in the person of his Messiah who will be recognized by healing and helping al kind of disabled people (61:1). So by using the word ‘Good Message’ Matthew emphasizes that Jesus makes true Isaiah’s prophesies.

He underlines that again by using the word ‘felt sorry’ (very insufficient translation of the Greek ‘splanchnè’ which means ‘to be stirred in his intestines, in the depth of his heart’).

In the Gospels this word is only used for God and Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke it is also used for the Good Samaritan (10:33) and for the Father of the Prodigal Son (15:20). The ‘splanchnè’ is the source of God’s pity, mercy, grace and forgiveness.

Picture Meditation

Jesus is surrounded by a circle. He carries the cross of a shepherd. The boat in its curl is a remembrance of the first verse of Matthew’s ninth chapter, where we hear that Jesus was crossing the water in a boat.

The circle around Jesus is divided in a an upper part and a lower one. In the upper part we count indeed twelve disciples plus a woman: his mother? Mary Magdalene? Is she placed there by the artist to remind us that the women belong to Jesus’ followers as well?

I choose one of these disciples and I place myself in his/her position. What are my feelings looking at Jesus and listening to him?

Jesus is saying to them, ‘'The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers to his harvest.' In the following verses of Matthew’s story we understand that the disciples are meant to be these labourers.

They have to take care of the people in the lower part of the circle. They are the harvest. They are all looking up to Jesus, hoping for help, for comfort, for love, grace, mercy... Jesus sends his disciples (me?) to them.

At the base the circle is open. Out of the circle around Jesus people are taking care of others. Do I belong to them?

They are the reflection of the upper part of the painting, the part above the circle. There we see different moments where Jesus is curing people, helping disabled ones. His disciples have to copy his way of doing. He is the shepherd. Jesus considers himself as a shepherd indeed. Not only by carrying a cross. It is also illustrated by his words some moments later, ‘Look, I am sending you out like sheep...’ (10:16).

I take the time to look at each of the pictured people. I choose one of them to identify myself with. Do I feel Jesus’ presence? Possibly by means of one of his disciples.

Or do I belong to these disciples? Do I bear his mercy in my way of proceeding?

Finally I have a talk with one of these people; with Jesus himself.

- Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J

The God Who Speaks in our Archdiocese