4th Sunday of Easter Year – B – 2015
Acts 4:8- 2, 1 Jn.3:1-2, Jn.10:11-18
A soldier dying on a Korean battle field asked for a priest. The Medic could not find one. A wounded man lying nearby heard the request and said, “I am a priest.” The Medic turned to the speaker and saw his condition, which was as bad as that of the other. “It will kill you if you move,” he warned. But the wounded chaplain replied.
“The life of a man’s soul is worth more than a few hours of my life.” He then crawled to the dying soldier, heard his confession, gave him absolution and the two died hand in hand.
As we continue to reflect on the meaning of the resurrection, the 4th Easter Sunday is called Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We celebrate the risen Lord as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
The priest in charge of a parish is called pastor because pastor means shepherd of Christ’s sheep. As a shepherd, he leads, feeds, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects Christ’s sheep in the parish. The image of God as Shepherd has its precedence in the Old Testament literature.
God has been depicted as a Shepherd in the book of Genesis (49:24), and in the book of Psalms (23, 74, 80). In our gospel today, Jesus shows us that he is the Good Shepherd. By saying so, he becomes the fulfillment of the Old Testament. As the gospel shows, Jesus has three characteristics of a good Shepherd: caring, compassionate, and guiding.
First, he is a Shepherd who cares for his flock. His caring can be seen in his great love for his sheep. He loves his sheep so much that he is willing to lay down his life for them. Here, Jesus contrasts himself from a “hired man” who abandons the sheep when the wolves come. He is different from a hired man because Jesus has concern for his sheep.
Second, he is a Shepherd who feels compassion for his sheep. Sheep are powerless in the face of wolves. He shows compassion for them by protecting them from harm. His compassion likewise goes beyond the flock that he is called to care.
Third, he is a Shepherd who guides his sheep. Sheep cannot graze on barren land, but someone must lead them to pasture, to water, and to shelter. They must be sought out when they are separated from the flock because they will never find a way back themselves. This is how he guides his flock.
Introducing himself as the shepherd of his flock, Jesus makes four 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, even 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 knowledge that comes from love and leads to care and concern for the other.
He loves us as we are, with all our limitations, and he expects us to receive and return his love by keeping his words. 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. He strengthens our faith by giving us his 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 mighty 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 stray lambs and heals the 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 this 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 he cares for his own, he does not discriminate and ultimately dies because he cares for all peoples.
The 4th Sunday of Easter is also called “Vocation Sunday”. Jesus the Good Shepherd calls out to us. And if we are His sheep, we will be listening to Him and we will also follow Him. Yet the call of Jesus also goes further and deeper to those for whom He has a particular calling. Vocation Sunday focuses on the call to the priesthood and religious life.
Pope Francis in his Chrism Mass homily has this to say to those who are shepherds or preparing to be shepherds of God’s flock. He said that the priests are to have the smile of the Father and the smell of the sheep. He said that the priests are to bring the healing power of God’s grace to everyone in need, to be close to the oppressed.
So humbly I ask you, my dear people of God, to pray for us priests that we will lead you to hear the voice of Jesus and to follow Him to the green pastures of eternal life. Yes, pray for us priests and pray for those who are preparing for the priesthood and for those who are thinking about the priesthood. May I request you to thank God for me and to pray for me as I am completing 20 years of my Priesthood on Tuesday.
May we lead you to believe this, which is taken from Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” Yes, with the Lord as our shepherd, there is indeed nothing we shall ever want. All we want is to listen to Him and follow Him.
Let us pray for vocations to priestly and religious life so that we may have more holy and Spirit-filled shepherds to lead, feed and protect the Catholic community. Amen.