The account of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
"The good shepherd
lays down his life for his sheep." But what do the sheep
gain from the death of their shepherd? We can see from
Christ's own death that it leaves the beloved flock a prey
to wild beasts, exposed to depredation and slaughter, as
indeed the apostles experienced after Jesus had laid down
his life for his sheep, consenting to his own murder, and
they found themselves uprooted and scattered abroad. The
same story is told by the blood of martyrs shed throughout
the world, the bodies of Christians thrown to wild beasts,
burnt at the stake or flung into rivers: all this suffering
was brought about by the death of their shepherd, and his
life could have prevented it.
But it is by dying that your shepherd proves his love for you. When danger
threatens his sheep and he sees himself unable to protect them, he chooses
to die rather than to see calamity overtake his flock. What am I saying? Could
Life himself die unless he chose to? Could anyone take life from its author
against his will? He himself declared: "I have power to lay down my life,
and I have power to take it up again; no one takes it from me." To die,
therefore, was his own choice; immortal though he was, he allowed himself to
be put to death.
By allowing himself to be taken captive, he overpowered his opponent; by submitting
he overcame him; by his own execution he penalized his enemy, and by dying
he opened the door to the conquest of death for his whole flock. And so the
Good Shepherd lost none of his sheep when he laid down his life for them; he
did not desert them, but kept them safe; he did not abandon them but called
them to follow him, leading them by the way of death through the lowlands of
this passing world to the pastures of life.
Listen to the shepherd's words: "My sheep hear my voice and follow me."
Those who have followed him to death will inevitably also follow him to life;
his companions in shame will be his companions in honor, just as those who
have shared his suffering will share his glory. "Where I am," he says, "there
shall my servant be also." And where is that? Surely in heaven, where Christ
is seated at the right hand of God. Do not be troubled, then, because you must
live by faith, nor grow weary because hope is deferred. Your reward is certain;
it is preserved for you in him who created all things. "You are dead," scripture says, "and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ
your life appears, you too will appear with him in glory." What was concealed
from the farmer at seedtime he will see as he gathers in the sheaves, and the
man who plows in sorrow will harvest his crop in gladness.
40: PL 52, 313-314)
Chrysologus (c.400-450), who was born at Imola in Italy,
became bishop of Ravenna. He was highly esteemed by the
Empress Galla Placidia, in whose presence he preached his
first sermon as bishop. He was above all a pastor, and
many of his sermons have been preserved.