Today is Monday the 12th of May, in the Fourth Week of Easter.

As I begin to pray today, what is on my mind? And what is in my heart? Am I feeling happy with life?  Calm? Serene? Or perhaps tired, frustrated, fed up? God knows me better than I know myself, so I can be honest with God about my feelings, and place myself now, as I really am, before the Lord.

Today’s reading is from the Gospel of John.

In first-century Palestine, sheep and shepherds were part of the landscape.  Being a shepherd wasn’t an unusual occupation, but a common one, in fact quite a humble one.  Today, though, when most of us live in big towns and cities, how many of us know any shepherds?  So this image of the shepherd might not mean much to us, or we might react negatively to the “other side of the coin” – that Jesus, by implication, might rather unflatteringly be calling us “sheep”!  But how do you react to this image?  How do you feel about it?  What do you think Jesus is saying about himself, about us, about you?

Jesus talks about the differences between the good shepherd and the hired hand – in the degree of commitment and responsibility, the depth of relationship, the time and care, and even love, that is given – differences that set Jesus apart from false prophets, but that might also prompt me to question myself.  What does the image of the good shepherd and the hired hand say about my commitment, the depth of my relationships, the time and care and love that I give?

As you hear these words of Jesus again, listen carefully and see if you notice a phrase that Jesus uses repeatedly, three or four times in this one passage, that tells us more than anything about his love for us.

“I lay down my life for my sheep”.  Hired hands don’t do that.  In fact, most shepherds don’t love their sheep that much.  But in this season of Easter we celebrate the fact that Jesus does.  What do you want to say now to the one who laid down his life for every one of us, for you?