THEME: THE GOOD SHEPHERD
READINGS: Acts 2:14, 36-41/ 1 Peter 2:20-25/ John 10:1-10
4th Sunday of Easter
Beloved, today, the fourth Sunday of Easter, is also Vocations Sunday. Whereas there are several types of vocations, the focus today is on the priesthood and religious life. We are praying that many more people will accept the Lord’s call to become priests and religious; for the harvest is rich but the labourers are still few. For instance, in the universal Church, the ratio of priests to the lay faithful is about 1:3,000.
Now, today is also Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus, according to the second reading, is ‘the Shepherd and Guardian of [our] souls’ (1 Pet. 2:25). And Jesus Himself declares: ‘I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep’ (John 10:11).
To understand well what Jesus means by referring to Himself as the Good Shepherd, we need to consider the use of the image of ‘shepherd’ in the Old Testament. The Israelites saw their leaders or kings as shepherds (Ezek. 34). Above all, they saw God himself as their shepherd. Hence, we have the most popular psalm, which runs: ‘The Lord is my shepherd …’ (Psalm 23). Several other Psalms refer to God as shepherd and His people as sheep or flock.
One may, therefore, ask: which qualities of ordinary shepherds inspired the Israelites of old to refer to their leaders and even God as shepherds? In this homily, we will consider five (5) of the good qualities which were found among responsible shepherds in the early nomadic communities of Israel:
- Constant Vigilance
- Fearless Courage
- Selfless Sacrifice
- Patient Love
- Caring Provider
- Constant Vigilance:
The shepherds of old exercised constant vigilance over their flocks so that none of the animals went astray nor was attacked. Similarly, Jesus constantly watches over us. He assures us: ‘I give my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:28). Again, the Lord assures us: ‘this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me’ (John 6:39; cf. John 17:12). Like Jesus, bishops, priests, religious and other Christian ministers should have constant vigilance over their flock by being available to them, and by identifying and praying for their needs.
- Fearless Courage:
The shepherds of Israel exhibited fearless courage in the face of wild beasts [because they were expected to produce evidence if any of the sheep was killed by a beast (Exo. 22:13); the evidence could be 2 legs of the sheep or an ear (Amos 3:12). Remember that David, as a young shepherd, killed lions and bears in defence of his father’s flock (1 Sam. 17:34-36)]. Similarly, Jesus knew what awaited him in Jerusalem, but in order to save us, he fearlessly went there, even in a public manner. Again, like a courageous shepherd fearlessly embracing the danger awaiting him, Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper: ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of me this night, for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”’ (Mark 14:27).
Like Jesus, bishops, priests, religious and other Christian ministers should exhibit fearless courage by proclaiming the Word of God without fear or favour and by undertaking new missions, some of which may entail risks.
- Selfless Sacrifice:
Some of the shepherds of Israel sacrificed their lives in the process of protecting the animals from wild beasts and armed robbers. Similarly, Jesus says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd, I lay down my life for my sheep. … I lay down my life of my own accord’ (John 10:11, 18). Indeed, out of love, Jesus offered the one perfect sacrifice to save us all.
Similarly, bishops, priests and religious exhibit selfless sacrifice by living their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. In addition, selfless sacrifice should be demonstrated by embracing the pains, inconvenience and other difficulties entailed in the exercise of our ministry. Jesus’ selfless sacrifice cannot be reconciled with the craze for amassing wealth at the expense of the flock entrusted to Church leaders.
- Patient Love:
The shepherds of Israel demonstrated patient love for strayed sheep. Similarly, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who looks for the one lost sheep among the hundred sheep (Luke 15:1-7). Consider how many times we stray by sinning and yet Jesus constantly looks for us and brings us back to the Father.
Similarly, with deep love for every soul entrusted to us, the bishop/priest/minister should put in place a process by which the ‘lost sheep’ of his diocese/parish/church could be brought back to the Good Shepherd.
- Caring Provider:
The shepherds of Israel were caring providers who led their flock to where they could feed. Similarly, Jesus provides for us. For this reason He says, ‘I am the door; if anyone enters, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. … I have come that you might have life and have it in abundance’ (John 10:9-10). In His earthly ministry, Jesus fed the hungry in their thousands, healed the sick of all kinds of ailments and spiritually fed countless people with the Word of God.
Like Jesus, bishops, priests, religious and other church leaders should be compassionate in feeding the flock with the Word and the Sacraments. In addition, we should ensure that the poor and needy receive material support.
In short, bishops, priests, religious and other Christian ministers should, like Jesus the Good Shepherd, exhibit in their ministry constant vigilance, fearless courage, selfless sacrifice, patient love and be caring providers.
Finally, borrowing the words of St. Peter, I pray that we will ‘shepherd the flock which God has entrusted to [us], guarding it not out of obligation but willingly for God’s sake; not as [those] looking for profit but with a generous heart; [that we will] not lord it over those in [our] care, rather be an example to [our] flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, [we] will be given a crown of unfading glory’ (1 Peter 5:2-4). Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis