Saint Oliver Plunkett – Readings

Saint Oliver Plunkett – Commentary on Ezekiel 34:11-16 or 1 Peter 3:8-18; Ps 30; John 10:11-16

The Gospel reading appropriately is from the gospel of John where Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd. And one of the signs of a good shepherd is that he is ready to lay down his life for his sheep. In this he is totally different from a hired man who, as soon as he senses danger, takes to his heels and abandons the sheep. He has no real concern for the sheep; he is doing it for the money he can earn.
The good shepherd, on the contrary, has a very special relationship with his sheep. To the outsider, they all look the same but the shepherd knows each one individually and they know him. And, if necessary, the good shepherd is ready to lay down his life for his sheep. And, he not only cares for his own sheep, but he will also be on the lookout for other wandering sheep he can bring into his flock.
Of course, this image matches perfectly the life and work of Jesus himself, the Good Shepherd. But it also should be the image of every good pastor in the Church and certainly applied totally to Oliver Plunkett, who took great risks to pastor his sheep and in the end, gave his life for them.
There is a choice of two First Readings. The first is from Ezekiel’s wonderful parable of the shepherds, addressed to the spiritual leaders of Israel. Here, too, God calls himself the Shepherd of his people. “As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep… I will bring them back to their own country and pasture them on the mountains of Israel… There they shall lie down on good grazing ground, and in rich pasture shall they be pastured… I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord God.”
And finally, “the lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal…” This picture of God as the Good Shepherd was brought to life in the person of Jesus who, in turn, expected his followers to be cared for by shepherds with the same caring spirit. And again, we can see in Oliver Plunkett such a shepherd. Let us pray that we may never be short of such shepherds in our communities.
The alternative First Reading is from the First Letter of Peter. In the first part it speaks of how the Christian should behave – be of one mind, sympathetic, loving towards one another, compassionate, humble, not returning evil for evil, insult for insult but instead, a blessing. In fact, Oliver Plunkett was being described as a person of great gentleness.
In the second part of the reading, we are told not to be afraid of suffering where the living of our Christian faith is concerned. And, if we are criticised or abused for our beliefs, let us be ready to give an explanation but with gentleness and reverence. “So that when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.”
In all of this, we have the example of Jesus Christ who also suffered for sin, “the righteous for the unrighteous”. As Paul reminds us elsewhere, we do need to remember that Jesus died for us not because we were good but because we were sinners! We are called to do the same. And, of course, it was what Oliver Plunkett did when he offered his life on the gallows at Tyburn. No wonder it is a specially holy place!

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