Reflections for the IV Sunday of Easter
Acts 4: 8-12, 1 John 3:1-2 ,Jn:11-18
Homily starter anecdote: Pope St. John Paul II, the good shepherd. The most beautiful and meaningful comment on the life and the legacy of our late Holy Father, Pope St. John Paul II, was made by the famous televangelist, Billy Graham. In a TV interview, he said: “He lived like his Master, the Good Shepherd, and he died like his Master, the Good Shepherd.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus claims that he is the Good Shepherd and explains what he does for his sheep. One need not be a Pope, bishop or priest to be a good shepherd. In a Middle school in the Ukrainian village of Ivanichi a young teacher died sometime back. He became a good shepherd by absorbing the blast of a hand grenade to protect his pupils. Many years ago, a woman carrying a baby through the hills of South Wales, England, was overtaken by a blizzard. Searchers found her later frozen to death in the snow. Amazed that she had on no outer garments, they searched further and found her baby. She had wrapped them around the child, who was still alive and well. He grew up to be David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Great Britain. When the Good Shepherd is even ready to give up his life, we should stay close to the Shepherd so as to be defended by him. (http://stjohngrandbay.org/wt/client/v2/story/WT_Story.cfm?SecKey=151)
Introduction: The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The scripture lessons are about shepherds. Each year on this Sunday we reflect on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, devotedly taking care of his flock. The title of the parish priest, "pastor," means shepherd. A shepherd leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects his flock—responsibilities that belong to every church leader. The earliest Christians had seen Jesus as the fulfillment of the ancient Jewish dream of a good shepherd. They also wished to include the Gentiles as part of God’s flock.
Scripture readings summarized: In today's first reading, Peter asserts unequivocally before the assembly that there is no salvation except through Christ the Good Shepherd whom the leaders of the time have rejected and crucified, and in whose name the apostles preach and heal. In the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 118), we give God our heartfelt thanks for His goodness, His mercy and His becoming our Savior, our refuge and the “cornerstone" of the Kingdom of God. In the second reading, St. John tells us how Yahweh the Good Shepherd of the Old Testament expressed His love for us through His Son Jesus, the Good Shepherd, by making us His children. The Gospel text offers us both comfort and challenge. The comforting good news is that Jesus the Good Shepherd knows us, provides for us and loves us. The challenge is that we should be good shepherds to those entrusted to our care. The Pharisees didn’t get the message – but, thanks to God’s grace for us and the Holy Spirit’ indwelling guidance and protection in the Church, we do.
First reading: Acts 4: 8-12 explained: After describing the Ascension of Jesus in the first chapter and the Descent of the Holy Spirit in the second chapter, the Acts of the Apostles describes in its third chapter Peter’s healing and preaching ministry. The healing of the cripple and the resulting evangelization by Peter resulted in his arrest by the Temple guards. They hauled Peter and his companions to the assembly of the leaders, elders and the scribes. Today's reading tells us that in the trial before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:5-22), Peter was empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear a renewed Easter witness to the Son of God, Jesus Christ the Nazarene, who had been unjustly crucified, but whom God had raised from the dead. Peter explained that he had healed the cripple in the name of Jesus, whom the Jews had despised and rejected but whom God had made into the cornerstone (kephale gonias in Greek) of the Kingdom of God. What moved Peter to act on behalf of the cripple was his Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who, as the Good Shepherd, cares for such people. In imitation of the Lord who had always cared for the sick and the lowly, Peter was also moved by the same risen Lord to reach out, touch, and heal the cripple. Then Peter made the startling statement about salvation coming only through Christ Jesus: “Salvation is to be found through him alone. In all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us.”
Second Reading, 1 John 3:1-2 explained: The New American Bible in its introduction to John’s letters states that John wrote these letters to the Judeo-Christian community some of whose members were advocating false doctrines (2:18-26; 3:7). They refused to accept the full Divinity and full humanity of Jesus, disregarded the commandment of love of neighbor, refused to accept Faith in Christ as the source of sanctification and denied the redemptive value of Jesus' death. After recognizing and correcting these errors, John, in today’s second reading, reminds his people that they should remember their privileges. First, it is their privilege to be called the children of God. John clarifies that we are not merely called the children of God; we are God's children in actuality. It is by grace through Baptism that we become God’s children. The more we know and love the God we believe in, the more we will strive to act and live as God's children. In other words, we become like the God we believe in. As the culmination of all our privileges as children of God, when Christ appears, we shall see him “as He really is,” and we shall be like him.
Gospel Exegesis: The context: It was in the wintertime, probably the time of the Jewish Hanukkah feast (the Feast of Dedication), which commemorated the triumph of the Jewish commander Judas Maccabaeus over the Syrian leader Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 165 B.C. Jesus was walking on the east side of the Temple, which offered protection against the cold winds from the desert. The Jews had gathered round him. They were not sure whether or not Jesus was the promised Messiah. They tried to assess the situation, by asking Jesus whether he was the Christ or simply a wandering preacher, one of the many wandering preachers and healers. Instead of giving them a straight answer, Jesus tells them that he is the Good Shepherd and explains to them his role as such.
Shepherds in the Old Testament: In the Old Testament, the image of the Shepherd is often applied to God as well as to the leaders of the people. The book of Exodus several times calls Yahweh a shepherd. Likewise, the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh’s care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd. “He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against His breast and leading the mother ewes to their rest.” (Is 40:11). Ezekiel represents God as a loving Shepherd Who searches diligently for his lost sheep. Psalm 23 is David’s famous picture of God as The Good Shepherd: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me.”The prophets often use harsh words to scold the selfish and insincere shepherds (or leaders) of their day. 1. “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered"(Jer 23:1). 2. “Trouble for the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Shepherds ought to feed their flock” (Ez 34:2).
The Good Shepherd in the New Testament: Introducing himself as the Good Shepherd of his flock, Jesus makes three claims in today’s Gospel:
1) He knows his sheep and his sheep hear his voice: Just as the Palestinian shepherds knew each sheep of their flock by name, and the sheep knew their shepherd and his voice, so Jesus knows each one of us, our needs, our merits and our faults. Of course, the knowledge talked of here is not mere intellectual knowing but the knowledge that comes from love and leads to care and concern for the other. Jesus loves us as we are, with all our limitations, and he expects us to receive and return his love by keeping his word. He speaks to us at every Mass, through the Bible, through our pastors, through our parents, family and friends and through the events of our lives. "God whispers to us in our pleasures, he speaks to us in our consciences, and he SHOUTS to us in our pain!" (C.S. Lewis).
2) He gives eternal life to his sheep by receiving us into his sheepfold through Baptism. Jesus strengthens our Faith by giving us the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. He supplies food for our souls by the Holy Eucharist and by the Divine words of the holy Bible. He makes our society holy by the Sacraments of Matrimony and the Priesthood.
3) He protects his sheep by placing them in the loving hands of his Almighty Father. Without Him to guide us and protect us, we are easy prey for the spiritual wolves of this world: that includes Satan, as well as the seven deadly sins of pride, avarice, envy, gluttony, anger, lust and sloth. In the first part of chapter ten of John’s Gospel, Jesus adds two more roles to those of the good shepherd. He goes in search of his stray lambs and heals his sick ones. Jesus heals the wounds of our souls by the Sacrament of Reconciliation and strengthens us in illness and old age by the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
4) Jesus dies for his sheep: Just as the shepherds of ancient days protected their sheep from wild animals and thieves by risking their own lives, so Jesus died in expiation for the sins of all people. In the final part of today’s Gospel, Jesus invites those who are touched and saved by the love of the Shepherd, to shepherd and care for others. "There are other sheep that are not of this fold and these I have to lead as well." Though Jesus cares for his own, he loves all of us without exception, for God has created all of us and loves us all. Jesus ultimately dies because he cares for all peoples.
“The other sheep.” Jesus’ reference to other sheep and to one flock (v. 16) points to the universality and unity of the community of believers. By “the other sheep” Jesus probably meant the poor, the tax collectors and sinners who were generally ostracized by society. Like the Jews, the earliest Church considered the Gentiles and unbelievers as the “other sheep”; that error ended while Peter was still living, and Paul combatted it throughout his ministry to the Gentiles. We are now being challenged to examine whom we regard as those other sheep. Are they members of different Faiths or different denominations, different races, classes, cultures, attitudes or behaviors? Let us pray for the day when there will be “one flock, one Shepherd.”
Life messages: Let us become good shepherds and good sheep.
1) Let us become good shepherds: Everyone who is entrusted with the care of others is a shepherd. Hence pastors, parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, government officials and politicians are all shepherds. Since shepherding a diocese, a parish, a civil community or a family is very demanding, the shepherds need dedication, commitment, sacrifice and vigilance every day. We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time and talents for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers. Parents must be especially careful of their duties as shepherds, becoming role models for their children by leading exemplary lives
2) Let us be good sheep in the fold of Jesus, the Good Shepherd: Our local parish is our sheepfold, and our pastors are our shepherds. Jesus is the High Priest, the bishops are the successors of the apostles, the pastors are their helpers and the parishioners are the sheep. Hence, as the good sheep of our parish, a) Let us hear and follow the voice of our shepherds through their homilies, Bible classes, counseling and advice. b) Let us take the spiritual food given by our pastors through regular and active participation in the Holy Mass and by frequenting the sacraments, prayer services, renewal programs and missions. c) Let us cooperate with our pastors by praying for them always, by thanking and praising them for all they are doing for all of us, by giving them positive suggestions (rather than negative criticisms) for the welfare of the parish, and generally giving them friendly, supportive encouragement. Let us also cooperate in the activities of various councils, ministries and parish associations.
3) Let us pray for vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life, religious and lay so that we may have more holy and Spirit-filled shepherds to lead, feed and protect the Catholic community, and more responsive, loving, cooperative sheep. Christian thinking on vocation has been summarized in one profound saying: “All are priests, some are priests, but only one is the Priest.” Christ Jesus is the Priest in the full sense because he is theone mediator between God and humanity who offered Himself as a unique sacrifice on the cross. The universal priesthood of all believers, the sharing of all the baptized in the priesthood of Christ, has received special emphasis since Vatican II. Those who are called to make a lifelong commitment to serve as ordained ministers share the ministerial priesthood of Jesus. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations we are asked to encourage and pray for our young men to respond to God’s call to serve His Church in the ministerial priesthood. (Fr. Antony Kadavil)