4th Sunday of Easter!
Call to be Good Shepherds
The most beautiful and meaningful comment on the life and the legacy of St. Pope John Paul II was made by the famous televangelist the late Billy Graham. In a T.V. interview, he said: “He lived like his Master the Good Shepherd, and he died like his Master the Good Shepherd.” Today, the fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. All the scripture readings of today speak about shepherds. Each year on this Sunday, we reflect on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. A shepherd leads, feeds, guides, nurtures, comforts, corrects, and protects his flock. The early Christians have seen Jesus as the fulfillment of the ancient Jewish dream of a good shepherd.
In today’s first reading, St. Peter tells the Jewish community that there is no salvation except through Christ, the Good Shepherd, the one whom the Jewish leaders rejected and crucified. In the second reading, St. John tells us how Yahweh, the Good Shepherd, expressed His love for us through His Son Jesus, the Good Shepherd, by making us His children. 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 calls several times Yahweh as a Shepherd. Likewise, the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh’s care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus introduces himself as the “Good Shepherd.” This particular incident of today’s Gospel may have happened during wintertime, the time of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. (Hanukkah is the Feast of the Dedication, which commemorated the triumph of the Jewish commander Judas Maccabaeus over the Syrian leader Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 165 B.C.) While he was walking on the east side of the Temple, the Jews had gathered around him to double-check if he is the promised Messiah or simply a wandering preacher like any other wandering preachers and healers of that time. Instead of giving them a straightforward answer, Jesus told them that he is the Good Shepherd and explained to them the role of a shepherd.
According to Jesus, there are a few outstanding qualities for a good shepherd:1) A good shepherd knows the sheep, and the sheep hear his voice. In the life context of the Palestinian shepherds, every shepherded knew his flock by name, and each sheep knew its Shepherd and his voice. Jesus, the Shepherd, knows each one of us, our needs, our merits, and our faults. The knowledge we are talking about here is not mere intellectual knowing but the experiential knowledge that comes from the love -relationship with Jesus, leading 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. 2) A good shepherd provides and protects. Jesus provides for our spiritual nourishments with His body and blood, and He protects us with His everlasting love and care. 3) A Good shepherd leads and guides his flock. Jesus is leading and guiding us every day of our life as his beloved flock. 4) A good shepherd looks for the lost sheep. Jesus is constantly searching and looking for us, especially in those moments when we are lost. Jesus heals the wounds of our souls by the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. 5) A good shepherd dies for his sheep. As the shepherds of ancient days protected their sheep from wild animals and thieves by risking their own lives, so also Jesus died as an expiation for our sins.
Therefore, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, dear brothers and sisters, let us try to be good shepherds by caring for those entrusted to our care. We are supposed to be good shepherds as pastors, parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, officials, politicians, and anyone who has a special responsibility. Being a good shepherd is very demanding these days. 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 against physical and spiritual dangers and assaults. Parents have to be especially careful and become role models for their children by leading exemplary lives and living out what they are trying to teach their children as it is a 24/7 job. Our local Parish is our sheepfold, and our pastors are our shepherds. Today, we need more than ever dedicated, committed, and self-sacrificing pastors; therefore, we need to pray for vocation to the priesthood and religious life. Please keep your pastors in your prayers. May you have a blessed weekend and God bless you all!
Fr. Tomy J. Puliyan, MSFS