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4th Sunday of Easter - May 11, 2014
Acts 2: 14, 36-41; 1Peter 2: 20-25; Jn 10: 1-10
The Jews had a lovely legend to explain why God chose Moses to be the leader of his people. "When Moses was feeding the sheep of his father-in-law in the wilderness, a young kid ran away. Moses followed it until it reached a ravine, where it found a well to drink from. When Moses got up to it, he said: `I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty. Now you must be weary.' He took the kid on his shoulders and carried it back. Then God said: `Because you have shown pity in leading back one of a flock belonging to a man, you shall lead my flock Israel.'"
This is Good Shepherd Sunday. Today, the Church calls us to reflect on the meaning of God's call and to pray for vocations to the priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life, reminding us that the entire Christian community shares the responsibility for fostering vocations. Both the Old and New Testaments use the image of a shepherd and his flock to describe the unique relation of Israel to God and the Christians to Christ. The first reading is taken from St. Peter’s first sermon on Pentecost. Here, he exhorts his listeners, Jewish people gathered for the harvest feast, to know beyond any doubt that the one they have allowed to be crucified is the true shepherd, the Lord and Messiah. Peter then proclaims that the proper response to the good news about Jesus is to repent and be baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ,” thus becoming members of the Good Shepherd’s flock. Through the Sacrament of Baptism, they will receive the forgiveness of sins. The responsorial psalm (Psalm 23) introduces Yahweh as the Good Shepherd of Israel and describes all of the things the Lord does for us, His sheep, providing for our needs.
The second reading continues the "shepherd” imagery. Peter encourages the suffering Christians to follow in their shepherd’s (“suffering servant”) footsteps and remember that they have been claimed by him. Peter also explains how Jesus, the innocent sufferer, was a model of patience and trust in God, and that his suffering has enabled us to become more fully children of God. In today’s Gospel, two brief parables about sheep reveal Jesus as our unique means to salvation. He is the "sheep gate," the gateway to eternal life, and the selfless, caring “shepherd” who provides protection and life itself.
The first reading, Acts 2: 14, 36-41: This text gives a summary of the whole gospel message: who Jesus is, how he saves us, and how we should respond. Peter tells the people: “You crucified your God and Messiah, but he has risen from death and offers you forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The conclusion of the sermon sums up the whole kerygma in a single Christological formula: "God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." The titles "Lord" and "Christ” have great significance. "Lord" was a title reserved for God alone. When early Christians realized that God had been made flesh in the person of Jesus, they dared to give him this divine title. "Christ" is the Greek form of the Hebrew word "Messiah," meaning the "anointed one,” or "king." He is the long-awaited successor to Kind David, and the fulfillment of all the hopes based on David’s glorious reign.
The second reading: 1 Peter 2: 20-25: The "shepherd" reference in the last verse of this reading from Peter’s epistle links it to the day's gospel. “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd, the guardian of your souls” (vv. 24-25). Peter then makes three contrasts in this part of his epistle: a) the contrasts between what Jesus suffered and his surprising responses: "...insulted, he returned no insult;" "when he suffered, he did not threaten"(v. 23); b) the contrasts between Jesus and us: HE bore OUR sins; by HIS wounds WE are healed (v. 24); c) the contrast between our former lost condition and our gracious present state.
Exegesis: The context: Jesus was not talking to his followers. He was addressing the Pharisees. They were accusing him of being from the devil because he had healed a blind man on the Sabbath. His response was that he was the Good Shepherd. He was not like the hired hands who collected their pay for watching the sheep, but abandoned them in their time of need, because they didn’t really care for the sheep. So the Pharisees knew exactly what Jesus meant — he was claiming to be God. They also knew he was contrasting himself to them — the hired hands entrusted to care for God’s people, but caring only for themselves.
Yahweh the Good Shepherd. For a long time the Jewish people had used the Good Shepherd image for God. The usage goes all the way back to Genesis 49:24, which says that Joseph was saved "By the power of the mighty one of Jacob, by the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, the God of your father ..." Such imagery was used by Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Zechariah, and of course by David in his Psalms. The psalmist addresses Yahweh as his shepherd. Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my shepherd; nothing shall I want.” (Compare also Psalms 77:20, 79: 13, 97:7). "He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand" (Ps.95:7). “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care” (Isaiah 40:11). Ezekiel foretells what the Messiah will do as a good shepherd. “I myself will tend my sheep …I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (Ezekiel 34: 15-16). In short, God is the ultimate Shepherd of the people, providing guidance, sustenance and protection (Psalm 23), and He intended their kings and other leaders to be their shepherds as well.
The Good Shepherd image in the New Testament: In Palestine, the word "shepherd" was a synonym for selfless love, sincerity, commitment and sacrificial service. Hence, Jesus selects it as the most fitting term to denote his life and mission ( Mt 18:2, 9:36, 26:31, LK 15:4, 12:32, Mk 6:34, 14:27, I Pet 2: 25, Heb 123:20). The prophets pointed out the main duties of a good shepherd: 1) The Good Shepherd leads the sheep to the pasture, provides them with food and water and protects them. In Palestine the shepherd went in front and the sheep followed behind. 2) He guarded them, not allowing them to get lost in the desert or become victims of robbers and wild animals - preventive vigilance. 3) He went in search of the lost ones and healed their wounds. 4) He was ready to surrender his life for his sheep - redemptive vigilance.
The first parable in today’s gospel: The first part of today’s gospel contrasts Jesus the true shepherd with fake shepherds, thieves and robbers. Jesus gives us warning against false shepherds and false teachers in his Church. Jesus' love and concern for each of us must be accepted with trust and serenity because he alone is our "shepherd" and no one else deserves our undivided commitment. As a true shepherd, he leads his sheep giving them the food and protection only Jesus the good shepherd can provide, and he protects us and leads us to true happiness.
The second parable. During the time of Jesus in the land of Palestine, the shepherds would bring the sheep down from the hills in the evening to protect them at night when the wolves and mountain lions were hunting their prey. At night, the shepherds would gather their sheep together and lead them into large pens or sheepfolds which had five-foot-high stone walls. The shepherds put the prickly briars along the top of the wall to prevent the mountain lions and wolves from jumping over it. Now, the doorway was about two feet wide, a narrow space in the front wall facing a fire of wood lit outside at night. The shepherd himself would sleep there in the small opening of the stone wall facing the burning fire with his club and staff. If any mountain lion came, the shepherd would fight it off with his weapons, his short stocky club or his long pointed staff. Thus, literally and actually, the shepherd himself was the door.
In this second parable Jesus compares himself to the Shepherd and to the Gate. The first title represents His ownership because Shepherd is the true owner of the sheep. The second title represents His leadership. Jesus is the Gate, the only way. He is the one Mediator between God and mankind. All must go through Him, through His Church, in order to arrive in Heaven. By identifying himself with the sheep-gate, Jesus gives the assurance that whoever enters the pen through him will be safe and well cared for. Jesus is the living door to his Father’s house and Father’s family, the door into the Father’s safety and to the fullness of life. It is through Jesus, the door, that we come into the sheepfold where we are protected from the wolves of life. There is safety and security in being a Christian. There is a spiritual, emotional and psychological security and safety when we live within Jesus and his Church, within the protectiveness of Christ, Christian friends and a Christian family.
Life Messages: 1) We need to be good shepherds and good leaders: Every one who is entrusted with the care of others is a shepherd. Hence, pastors, parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, government officials, etc., are all shepherds. We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time, talents and blessings for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers. Parents must be especially careful of their duties toward their children by giving them good example. Above all, parents should pray for their children and infuse into them sound Christian moral principles.
2) We need to 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 the parish, parishioners are expected to a) Hear and follow the voice of our shepherds through their homilies, Bible classes, counseling and advice. b) Receive the spiritual food given by our pastors by regular participation in the Holy Mass, by frequenting the sacraments and by prayer services, renewal programs and missions. c) Cooperate with our pastors by giving them positive suggestions for the welfare of the parish, by encouraging them in their duties, by lovingly correcting them with constructive criticism when they are found misbehaving or failing in their duties and by praying for them d) Actively participate in the work of various councils, ministries and parish associations.
3) We need to pray for good pastors and vocations. The Church uses this Sunday to encourage vocations to the ministerial priesthood, the diaconate and the consecrated life. Christians must share in the responsibility of fostering these vocations. a) The faith community must continuously pray for vocations both in the church and in their families. b) Since good priests, deacons and people embracing the consecrated life come from good Christian families, all Christian parents must live their faith in Christ on a daily basis by leading exemplary lives as parents and by fostering good relationships with, and among, their children. c) Parents must respect and encourage a child who shows an interest in becoming a priest or deacon or of entering upon a consecrated life. Parents need to encourage their children, including their teenagers and young adults, to participate actively in the children’s and youth activities in the parish, like Sunday school, children’s clubs, and youth associations. They should also encourage and actively support them in becoming altar servants, gift-bearers, lectors and ministers of hospitality. On this World Day of Prayer for Religious Vocations, let us begin, or continue, to pray for our priests, deacons and those living a consecrated life instead of criticizing them.
In San Salvador on March 24, 1980, an assassin killed Archbishop Oscar Romero with a single shot to the heart while he was saying Mass. Only a few minutes before, Archbishop Romero had finished a hope-filled homily in which he urged the people to serve one another. Since Archbishop Romero was demanding human rights for his people under oppression, he knew that his life was in danger. Still he persisted in speaking out against tyranny and for freedom. He once told newspapermen that even if his enemies killed him, he would rise again among his people. Today, good shepherds who lay down their lives are husbands and wives who can’t do enough for each other to demonstrate their commitment to each other; parents who make countless sacrifices for the good of their children; teachers who spend untold hours instructing the weak students; doctors and nurses who work untiringly to show they care for their patients; employers who share profits with their workers; politicians who unselfishly promote the common good of their voters and parishioners who generously support their parish community. Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’
(Source: Homilies of Fr. Tony Kadavil)