Sunday, April 26, 2015

4th Sunday of Easter (Year B) - The Good Shepherd

1st Reading - Acts of the Apostles 4:8-12
Ps. 117
2nd Reading - 1st John 3: 1-2
Gospel - John 10:11-18
Every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter, the Gospel is always on the theme of the Good Shepherd. That is why it is also known as The Good Shepherd Sunday.

The image of Christ as our Good Shepherd has always appealed to human nature. We are all very familiar with it. Many of our homes and prayer cards have this image. In fact one of the oldest Christian representations of Jesus is that of the Good Shepherd. Picture of Jesus carrying an injured sheep on his shoulders were found in the catacombs of Rome, painted by Christians who were being hunted down by the Roman soldiers because of their faith in Christ. In this most difficult and trying times, the persecuted Christians got their courage in their belief that their Lord and Savior was watching over them like a Shepherd who watches over his sheep. And this is so true even in our times, for an example, when there is a death, when someone looses a loved one, they feel so lost, confused and in despair. They are then asked to reflect on psalm 23 which gives the assurance that ‘the Lord is our (my) Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want’. This psalm is frequently prayed and sung at funerals.

Another example I would like to share is with my encounters with sailors and those working on the cruise and offshore. I gave some of them bookmark containing Psalm 23 and even told them to bring along their bible and pray that particular psalm. They have shared with me that it has helped them a lot in their life and especially when they face severe storms and bad sea conditions and even when they feel alone and far away from their family members. They were assured that Jesus the Good Shepherd is there with them, they need not fear. This is a manifestation of love which touches our innermost feelings. We do not mind being likened to sheep in this context. There is something guileless about a sheep, and at the same time a lot of foolishness. I believe with these examples, we can all accept why Jesus gave us such an image as we have just heard in the Gospel. 

Now to better understand the purpose of a shepherd during the time of Jesus, it is helpful to realize that sheep are utterly defenseless and totally dependent upon the shepherd.
Sheep are always subject to danger and must always be under the watchful eye of the shepherd as they graze. Rushing walls of water down the valleys from sudden, heavy rainfalls may sweep them away, robbers may steal them, and wolves may attack the flock. Driving snow in winter, blinding dust and burning sands in summer, long, lonely hours each day—all these the shepherd patiently endures for the welfare of the flock. In fact, shepherds were frequently subjected to grave danger, sometimes even giving their lives to protect their sheep. And Jesus stresses this in the Gospel, for he says ‘those shepherds who does otherwise are just hirelings and not a shepherd for he abandons his sheep when he sees trouble’. 

Dear Friends, the image of the Good shepherd is not only to be emulated by Bishops and priests but also by each one of us who are called to be Shepherds after the heart of Jesus who is the par excellence of all shepherds, the Good Shepherd. If we actually reflect further, we see many of us are indeed shepherds already. Parents, teachers, lay leaders and so on, are shepherds to their children, students and members. But we need to ask this always; what sort of shepherd am i? The good, the bad, the ugly? Of course the ideal is to be the good shepherd, and if we are not, then maybe it is because we have fail to emulate Jesus the Good Shepherd.      

Now to help us imitate Him, let us then look at the duties and responsibilities of a shepherd. It is all about feeding the lambs and the sheep, bringing them to good pasture lands and water, grooming and clipping them, delivering new lambs, leading them and teaching them to stay together, going off after the wandering lost ones, and protecting the sheep in the field and in the fold. 

We must remember that those under our care are the sheep of the Lord, not our sheep.  We are caretakers of sheep that belong to the Master. Like the shepherd who chooses the best place for the sheep to graze, we as shepherds must lead our sheep to the green pastures of the word of God and not MTV, serial dramas, pop psychology and worldly methodology.  They must be fed on with the Word of God and nourished by the holy Eucharist.  

Water, in the Bible, is often used as an allusion to the Holy Spirit.  It certainly is in the case of baptism.  A shepherd will lead his flock to water regularly.  A good shepherd are called to roll away the stone of hard hearts and prepare those hearts to be receptive to the nourishment of the Holy Spirit.  This can only be accomplished by rolling away the stone of the "self" culture so the light of God's written Word can shine through teaching and proper exegesis, through prayer, and living in obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ.

A shepherd grooms his sheep, keeps them clean and free of contamination. We as shepherds are asked to take heed to the words of Jesus to go out and tell the world of God’s love. We then must prepare those under our care to be disciples, followers of the Good Shepherd, so they will, in turn, go out and minister to others.
Good Shepherd Sunday is also World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Pope Francis in his message for 2015 Vocation Sunday reminds all of us “to be a Church which evangelizes, goes out to encounter humanity, proclaims the liberating word of the Gospel, heals people’s spiritual and physical wounds with the grace of God, and offers relief to the poor and the suffering.” 

Sheep Shearing
At times sheep must be sheared.  This is a useful and profitable process for both the sheep and the shepherd.   For the benefit of all, the sheep must be sheared; in our term it is ... disciplined, encouraged and rebuked ... so as to keep them fit for the service to the Lord.

Delivering new lambs
It is indeed a joy for the shepherd when he delivers new lambs. We too will feel the same when we have a new member in our family or when there is productivity and success in our projects and endeavors. A couple of weeks ago, our church too was in joyful fulfillment when our elects were baptized. But it is not enough, we need to do more, many out there still do not know Jesus. We need to go out, as shepherd for the Lord, we need to go out and look for the lost, wondering and wounded sheep. In the Gospel we read today, Jesus tells us of his desire. He says; “ I have other sheep that are not in this fold; I must bring them also…. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. It is a difficult task for the shepherd when his sheep scatters. It is the same in our church, when people instigate others to go against the teachings of the church and against pastors of the parish, the church suffers. 

Dear friends, We want to emulate the Good Shepherd, all the while realizing that only Jesus is the true shepherd and that we as leaders are also sheep under his care. Jesus is the one shepherd  that we can trust. We shepherds in God’s flock, however, should take note: before we can be good shepherds who lead the way for others, we must first be sheep who know and follow the Chief Shepherd’s voice ourselves. We pray that we may be sheep and shepherds after the heart of Jesus.