Fourth Sunday of Easter May 3, 2009 [Good Shepherd Sunday/Vocation Sunday]

Acts 4:8-12; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18

This Sunday is known as the Good Shepherd Sunday. One of the most popular images of pastoral care is that of the shepherd who leads his large flock and protects them from harm.  Today, the faithful of the Holy Catholic Church are united as one throughout the world to pray for religious vocations and call upon the grace of Our Lord Jesus shine on His Church by blessing it with an abundance of religious vocations.

 In today’s passage Jesus emphasises the self-sacrificing element in his own life: “The good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.” He contrasts the good shepherd who owns the sheep to someone who is simply hired to look after them.  During the time of Jesus, there were many herds consisting of thousands of sheep, their sheer number requiring highly skilled men to look after them and know how to cure their ailments.  The flocks spent most of the year in the open and only in winter were under some shelter.  They were attacked often by wild animals and even robbers could come to steal the sheep which made the shepherds to possess some weapons with them. Normally the shepherds were praised for their courage like David the king.  The work of the shepherd was never easy. He had to be living with them, protect them, care for them, take them to good pasture land, and look after them.  Often the rich landowners did not like the shepherds as they trespassed through their property often.  Since they lived away, the Jewish community often identified them with outcasts like the publicans and sinners.  However, this imagery of the Good Shepherd is often used in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.

In his life Jesus cared for the lost sheep and promised to lay down his life for the sheep. He calls himself a Good Shepherd who knows the sheep, cares for them and loves them. He also speaks of the mutual knowledge between the sheep and the shepherd and the extent to which the shepherd would go in search of the sheep. Jesus’ image of pastoral care, a search that continues until a find can be made. The search involves the depth of love for the person, which makes him sacrifice a great deal to discover the other.  The good shepherd challenges in his own way of searching for the lost or gone astray:  for Jesus says “I have come to seek out and save the lost.”  Jesus also says that there are the other sheep that does not belong to his flock and he has to bring them to the fold.

Jesus as a shepherd shows a deep sense of commitment and responsibility towards his own.  He is a leader who is concerned about the other and hence there is the attractiveness in him. Secondly there is the knowledge of the shepherd. Every good shepherd knows that his sheep knows him and he knows his own sheep. There is the mutual understanding and love between them. This mutual bond of love and intimacy is often compared to the mutual relationship between Jesus and his Father.  The shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep acknowledges its shepherd. Thirdly, the good shepherd deeply desires that many other sheep should come to identify themselves with him.  This in fact is the call of the kingdom of God that there may be one flock and one shepherd.”   In this sense an invitation for the universe to be united together with its God and Lord. Finally the good shepherd wishes to lay down his life for the sheep.  We have a God who is ready to die for others and Jesus emphasises that, in giving his life for his sheep, he is doing so of his own will. His death is to be the living proof that “the greatest love a person can show is to give one’s life for one’s friends”. This is the proof that Jesus truly is a Good Shepherd.

In today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard how Peter and John answered their calling to serve the Lord Jesus. Having been arrested for preaching the resurrection of the Lord, they stood before the rulers, the elders and the scribes to account for their actions. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter answered that his actions of good works were performed in the Name of Jesus Christ Who had been crucified and raised from the dead by God.  Testifying in the Most Holy Name of Jesus, Peter added that Jesus, the Stone that was rejected by the authorities, the builders, had become the Cornerstone.  He tells the people that as the leaders of the people, they had rejected Jesus, the promised Messiah, He who was the Cornerstone of God’s people, the Church.

In the Second Reading from the First Letter of John, we are reminded of the love of God the Father for us. So great is the love of God that it results in our being called His children.  The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Jesus. As God’s children know, we do not know what we will be like after the resurrection of the bodies because it has not been revealed to us. What we do know is that we will be like Jesus glorified. During our eternal life, we will not have a physical form because Jesus no longer has a physical body. There are two things that the Holy Bible tells us. First of all, after the resurrection of the dead, at the twinkle of an eye, our bodies will be transformed into imperishable and immortal bodies. Secondly, those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

The readings of today are intimately linked with the second theme of this Sunday. Not only is it Good Shepherd Sunday, it is also “Vocations Sunday”. On this day we are especially asked first of all to pray that the Church may be provided with the leaders needed to do its work of spreading the Gospel.  We know that at the present time there is a critical shortage of such leaders, at least in the traditional sense – priests and religious. But, while we may earnestly pray that our Church be supplied with the leaders it needs, not merely as priests and religious but lay persons who would lead people to God. At the same time we must be clear of the term vocation.  We have for too long given a much too narrow meaning to the word ‘vocation’. We tend to limit it to a calling to be a priest or a member of a religious institute. But, in fact, every single one of us has a vocation, as we are being called by God to be spouses, parents, teachers, doctors, and civil servants, running a business, salespersons… or whatever. That is the calling which demands fidelity to God and to the task personally chosen. God is calling every single one of us to work for the Gospel. For a small number it may be as a priest or religious – and that call can come at any time in one’s life. God is calling each one of us to make our own unique contribution based on the particular talents God has given us.

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