5 May 2020 Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday) 

“Be Good Sheep and Be Good Shepherds”

We have seen many images or pictures of Jesus. Perhaps one of the most beautiful pictures of Jesus is presented in today’s Gospel, that is the picture of a Good Shepherd.  Who can forget the picture of Jesus holding affectionately a sheep on his shoulder.  The fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations to priesthood and religious life.  Each year on this Sunday we reflect on the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, devotedly taking care of his flock.   The earliest Christians saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the ancient Jewish dream of a good shepherd.

1)  Yahweh the Good Shepherd: In the Old Testament period, the Jewish people had used the Good Shepherd image for God, going 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…” In Psalm 95 we read that “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.” Isaiah (40:11) tells us that “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the little ones with care.”   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 week” (Ezekiel 34:15-16).

2)  The Good Shepherd image in the New Testament:  In the New Testament period, 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.  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. 3) He went in search of the lost ones and healed their wounds.  4) He was ready to surrender his life for his sheep.

3)   Today’s responsorial psalm (Psalm 23) introduces the Lord as the Good Shepherd of Israel and describes all of the things our Good Shepherd does for us, His sheep, providing for our needs.  In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.  He guides me in right paths.   Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil with your rod and your staff that give me courage.

 The first section of today’s gospel contrasts Jesus the true shepherd with false shepherds, thieves and robbers. Jesus warns us against false shepherds and false teachers in his Church.  As a true shepherd leads his sheep, giving it food and protection, only Jesus the good shepherd provides for us, protects us and leads us to true happiness.

In the second section of the Gospel Jesus says “I am the gate or door of the sheep”:   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 into large pens or sheepfolds which had tall stone walls.  Now, the doorway, a narrow space in the front wall, was about two feet wide, facing a fire of wood lit outside at night.  The shepherd himself, with his club and staff, would sleep facing the burning fire.  If any wild animal 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. Jesus is the Gate, Jesus is the Door, and He is the only way.   He is the one Mediator between God and mankind.   All must go through Him in order to reach the Heavenly Jerusalem.

1)  Let us be good sheep in the fold of Jesus, the Good Shepherd: Jesus is the High Priest, the Pope and the bishops are the successors of the apostles, the priests and all others are their helpers.  We all belong to the same sheepfold of Jesus.  We become good sheep by knowing Jesus and by listening to the voice of Jesus and responding to it positively, by accepting and obeying the teachings of Jesus and of the Church.    By taking the spiritual food through our regular and active participation in the Holy Mass and by frequenting the sacraments, reading the Word of God and through our prayer.

2)  Let us become good shepherds:  In reality, everyone who is entrusted with the care of others is a shepherd.  Hence the Pope, bishops, pastors, teachers, doctors, nurses, caregivers, the government officials, and above all parents are all shepherds. The shepherds have to become role models for their sheep by leading exemplary lives.  They can become good shepherds only when they are closer to Jesus, the real good shepherd, and hear his voice. Then, they will look for the welfare of the sheep entrusted to them.  If they look to their own selfish motives and exert worldly authority over the sheep they fail to be good shepherds.  Hence a sense of dedication, commitment, sacrifice and vigilance are needed every day on the part of the shepherds. 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.

In the second reading Saint Peter tells us that “Jesus 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.”  Peter encouraged the suffering Christians to follow in the footsteps of their shepherd, who himself was “a suffering servant.” This advice of Peter is extremely significant and meaningful in today’s context when the whole world is suffering from the pandemic of coronavirus.  Jesus, the innocent sufferer, is a model of patience and trust in God, and that his suffering has enabled us all to become more fully children of God.

Today, the Church calls us to reflect on the meaning of God’s call and to pray for vocations, reminding us that the entire Christian community shares the responsibility for fostering vocations. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations we are asked to encourage and pray for our young men and women to respond to God’s call to serve so that we may have more holy and Spirit-filled shepherds to lead, feed and protect the Christian community.

May God bless you!                                                           Thank you.