Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118; 1John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai:
Following the Good Shepherd
Introduction: On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, we encounter the Good Shepherd. It is called “Good Shepherd Sunday” largely because the three liturgical cycles for the Fourth Sunday of Easter presents a passage from John’s Gospel about the Good Shepherd. Today is also celebrated as the 58th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The purpose is to publicly recognize vocations in all its forms. We are encouraged to commemorate this day with prayer for vocations and vocation promotion events. (Visit the last page for prayer for vocations).
The Good shepherd: In the Old Testament, God himself is represented as the Shepherd of his people. Psalm 23:1 says “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. Psalm 95:7 “He is our God and we are his people whom he shepherds”. In Isaiah 40:11 the scriptures speaks of the future Messiah who “Like a shepherd feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the young with care”. In the New Testament Jesus is the Good Shepherd. In John 10:11 of today’s gospel Jesus says “I am the good shepherd”; in Matt. 9:36 Jesus is the Good Shepherd who had compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Beloved in Christ, Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
It is important to note that Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. Jesus would not have added the adjective “good” if there were no bad shepherds. In Biblical history, Herodias, Abimeleck, Jezebel, Herod, some Pharisees were bad shepherds who led the people astray. Jesus calls them hirelings – they appear as good shepherds but intrinsically they are not. A hireling is a person who works purely for material reward. No good shepherd works purely for material reward. Throughout history good and bad shepherd had abounded in the Church and in the society. Look at the Church and look at the state I leave it to you to make your judgement. Prov 29:2 says “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan.” Beloved, a bad husband is a bad shepherd; a false prophet is a bad shepherd; a bad shepherd will make his sheep excellent meal for wolves; a bad shepherd despises wisdom and instruction; a bad shepherd has a Lying lips and he utters deceit; he is reckless and careless.
Basic features of the Good Shepherd
The Good Shepherd Cares: Jesus says in today’s gospel “No one will snatch them out of my hand.” A good shepherd cares for his sheep and protects them from snatchers and wolves. Who is he that snatches? The bible says in 1 Peter 5:8 “your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”. The devil and his agents are the snatcher. In John 10:10 “…he comes to steal, to kill and to destroy.” Beloved, no one can snatch us. In Isaiah 31:5 we are told that “like birds hovering overheads so the Lord will protect Jerusalem he will protect and deliver it, he will spare and rescue it.” This is our confidence! We have a God that will never fail us! Other shepherds may fail; but the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.
If the Lord has assured us of safety then we should not endanger ourselves. We should not be like the lost sheep that strayed from the group, often times you see Catholics who stray away. Anytime you isolate yourself you expose yourself to danger. Beloved in Christ, do not expose yourself to places, churches and temples where you will be snatched doctrinally, spiritually, and morally.
The Good Shepherd knows his sheep: In the Gospel, Jesus says “I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.” Jesus knows us; he knows each one of us by name. Your grand Father may not know you; but Jesus knows you. Your mother may not know you but Jesus knows you. Your priest may not know you but Jesus knows you. (Jesus knows all about…) Jesus knows you. He knows us far better than we know ourselves. In Jer.1:5 God says “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” We cannot hide from God, he knows us personally, heaven and earth are his, and so He knows us all.
The Good Shepherd loves his sheep: The seconding reading says “Behold the great love that the father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God.” Christ demonstrated this love for us by offering his life as a sacrifice and ransom for our salvation. In today’s gospel he says “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”. John 15:13 says “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Do you believe that Jesus loves you? Do you feel abandoned? Jesus loves you even in that predicament; while we were yet sinners He died for us. Beloved, let us extend this love that has been lavished on us. Husbands love your wives; wives love your husbands and children love your parents. Where there is no love – the wolf steals in; where there is no love we are expose to dangers. Only Love can restore our souls.
The Good Shepherd guarantees salvation: One who cares, knows you, loves you will definitely desire your salvation. Peter tells us in the first reading that “The name of Jesus Christ is the only name in which we can be saved”. Beloved, there is no salvation elsewhere than in Jesus. Precisely because of this Peter asked in John 6:68 ““My Lord, to whom shall we go?…” Beloved, where can we find salvation? Many men and women had tried to find out to whom they should go but arrived at Jesus. The woman with the issue of blood eventually resorted to Jesus and she got the best result. Jonah tried running away but came back to fulfill his assignment; the two disciples on the way to Emmaus eventually told an evidential story. Where else can we find succour? Where can we find strength? Which other name has been issued that supersedes his name? Let us listen to his voice and follow Him. In Him is our salvation. May God bless us with vocations and bless his words in our hearts.
Fr. Evaristus Okeke
God’s unique care for us!
I am the GOOD Shepherd (John 10:14)
One of the ways Jesus described himself in the gospels is that He is the Good Shepherd. With this description, Jesus was not introducing the concept of Shepherd to his listeners, rather He was differentiating himself from other Shepherds. The rearing of animals was a common agricultural practice at that time. Virtually everyone reared one animal or the other but in different capacities. When the capacity of a farmer becomes very large, he will need the services of some hirelings to cater for his large animal farm. The altitude or relationship of the hirelings to the sheep is not the same as that of the owner himself. The hirelings are simply working for their pay; they have no attachment to the sheep. If at all they care for the sheep, it is because their pay depends on it. So, the hirelings will not go an extra mile to care for the sheep.
On the other hand, the owner of the sheep will care for the sheep as his own; he will go an extra mile to ensure the wellbeing of the sheep. He cares for the sheep far more than the hireling does. Now, in the gospel reading of today, Jesus distinguishes himself from the hireling but did not liken himself to regular shepherds. This is because, the care of the sheep owner for his sheep however deeper it is from that of the hireling, is still not perfect. The owner is also having an economic interest on the sheep. He provides more care because he knows that after a bountiful harvest, he will be the top gainer. But in as much as he cares more, he will not risk just anything for the good of the sheep. The sheep are important but cannot be compared to human life; talk less of the life of the owner himself. So, should a wolf appear to ravage the sheep, the owner will still run away if he judges the wolf to be more powerful than himself.
It is based on this understanding that Jesus distinguishes himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep . The interest of Jesus on his sheep is not economical; he does not rear them for a bountiful harvest. The second reading describes the Lord’s interest on his sheep: God wants us to become his children in his world and even to become something more in the world to come. It means that as a Good Shepherd, he does not merely feed the sheep, he further gives his life to the sheep. So Jesus is the Good shepherd because he does not raise the sheep for personal gains (a rich harvest) but so that by sharing his life with the sheep, the sheep can become like him.
Consequently, only Jesus qualifies as the Good Shepherd; only him can give his life to his sheep. In the first reading, Peter defended this truth about the Good Shepherd. The lame man by the Beautiful Gate has been there for some time in a hopeless situation. Like a sheep, the much people (hirelings) could do for him was to give him alms; the extra care his family members (owner of the sheep) could provide for him was to bring him to the gate every morning and carry him home at the end of each day. Only Jesus was able to communicate LIFE to this man; a life that no other could have given the man; a life that released him from the pity of others. For this reason, Peter said: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”.
In as much as the name of Jesus can save, the name has to be exercised by someone. It was not the first time the lame man was hearing the name JESUS, but it was the first time the name was being exercised on him. Today being Good Shepherd Sunday is also referred to as Vocation Sunday. It is a day we thank God for the gift of the vocation of each and every one of us, especially for the gift of the vocation to the priesthood and the religious life. God wants to share his life with his sheep through the instrumentality of more “Peters and Johns” who would exercise the power of his name on his sheep.
Today, we are expected to first re-examine how committed we have been to answering God’s call towards us. God does not call us to be a hireling or a regular sheep owner but a Good Shepherd. Therefore, every call of God is geared towards service and never for self-aggrandizement. Today, we need to also examine how much we are supporting vocations to the priesthood and religious life. As parents, guardians, educator, elders and clerics, we must be able to help the young to discern the call of God on their lives just as Eli did for Samuel. Some young people are not able to hear and answer the call of God in their lives because either their parents are calling them to a different direction, or their parents have unruly exposed them to the society where they became confused by the deceptive and contradictory voices of the world. In the second reading, St. John made it clear that the world does not Christ and so cannot know those who belong to Christ.
Those who attend to the young in one way or the other, should live by example; an exemplary life that is bathed with a sense of charity and sacrifice. It is from the family and the society that vocations to the priesthood and religious life will emerge. We cannot raise wayward children and expect to have good and holy priests. God may not have called all of us to the priestly and religious life but He has definitely called all of us to be formators. So if you encounter a priest or a religious who is not living up to expectation, first ask yourself how you may have failed as a formator.
Let us learn to be more supportive to priests and religious. It is your right to be attended to spiritually by them; likewise it is your obligation to provide for their needs. They need your encouragement, your material and financial support because if they are to care for their needs themselves, they will not be giving full attention to the ministry. Above all, they need your prayers. When you ridicule or abandon them, you make the life look less attractive and disdain for the young. Without the ministry of Priests, we cannot experience the good shepherding of Jesus in a true and deep sense. God Bless You!
Fr Galadima Bitrus, (OSA)
TWO QUALITIES OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Last Sunday, we reflected on Christ as our advocate, who loves us so much so that he not only defends us from the charges of our sins but is even willing to die so as to free us from the condemnation that we merit. Today, being the 4th Sunday of Easter, the readings help us to meditate on Christ the Shepherd who loves his flock so much that he will not only do everything to bring healing to the sick but is willing to go as far as dying to save those in danger.
Christ proves to be powered by much and pure love, the kind of love that puts the beloved always in the first place. This kind of love is an essential ingredient both in being the kind of unique advocate that we have in Christ and the kind of Shepherd we can be proud to call “The Good Shepherd”.
The 1st Reading (Acts 4:8-12) presents Peter’s defense after he and John had been arrested following the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate. Peter had given a speech in which he called upon the people who came to them in admiration, to repent from their sins and receive forgiveness (see Acts 3:1-4:7).
Following this, they were arrested and as they were being interrogated, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, told the Jewish rulers, elders and scribes, that the healing of the lame man, for which they were being interrogated, took place by the name of Jesus Christ the stone which they had rejected and crucified but which with the resurrection, has become the cornerstone. Peter also proclaimed that there is salvation in no one else and in no other name but only Jesus.
The phrase, “the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4:11) is taken from Psalm 118:22 and is used to describe the rejection of Christ leading to his passion and death, and his rebound in the power of the resurrection, which became the source of healing, forgiveness of sins and salvation to those who believed.
This experience of the resurrection and its healing and salvific power proved to be unique and never seen or heard before, hence, Peter’s proclamation in v.12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we ought to be saved.” By proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection and the unequal power and dignity of his name, the apostles risked their lives for the one they have come to love so purely and so much. In the zeal of the apostles, we see an example of followers who have come to know and to love their shepherd profoundly.
In the 2nd Reading (1 John 3:1-2), the author addresses his listeners as “beloved” (Gk, “agapētoi”) and states, “we are now children of God” (Gk, “nun tekna Theou esmen”). In this way, we understand the generative power of love and how love creates networks of relationships.
It is love that makes us children of God and God our father; it is love that makes a woman the wife of the husband and a man the husband of his wife; it is love that makes brothers and sisters and parents and children. These are not merely sociological designations. They are born of love and genuinely exist only where love exists genuinely. Once we have hearts that love, then we cannot but see how we are related with one another in so many profound ways.
In the Gospel (John 10:11-18), Christ, by virtue of his sacrificial love, identifies himself as “the Good Shepherd”, different from hirelings. While the hireling can abandon his flock in the face of danger, the Good Shepherd, who is powered by profound love for his flock, is willing and able to lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus’ love for his sheep generates another network of love with the father. As we read in vv.17-18: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life…of my own accord.”
The Shepherd (Gk, “ho poimēn”) is a metaphor for the leader in the Bible and the sheep or the flock (Gk, “pròbaton”) a metaphor for the people who are being lead. Jesus the Good Shepherd (“ho poimēn ho kalos”) therefore shows us the model of a good leader: one who loves so much as to be willing and able to lay down his life for his sheep.
Another characteristic of the good shepherd is found in v. 14: “I know my own and my own know me.” In other words, knowledge of one’s people and the people’s knowledge of the leader is necessary for effective leadership. Ignorance of either the leader or the lead is a dangerous deficit. Mutual knowledge guarantees the empathy of the leader for the followers and of the followers for the leader; it minimizes misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the needs of the followers and of what the leader needs to do in order to meet such needs.
Lord, as we contemplate you as the Good Shepherd girded with profound love and knowledge of your flock, raise, assist and inspire leaders everywhere with the love and the knowledge necessary to effectively lead the people you have entrusted to their care, in accordance with your holy will and following your example, so that they too can share in the joy and the dignity of being good shepherds! Amen!
Fr. Paul Oredipe
GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY – World day of Prayer for Vocations
Today is the Good Shepherd Sunday. We are specially called upon to reflect on this unique image of Christ, the Good Shepherd.
The theme of Shepherd was an ancient one in Israel. In fact one of the most familiar sights of Palestine is that of a shepherd leading his sheep (flock).
In the Old Testament, God was portrayed as the shepherd of Israel (Ez. 34:11ff). The shepherd in the ancient Near East was devoted to his flock since his very existence depends on its survival. Their life on the other hand depended on the care of the shepherd. Thus, the confidence of the Israelite in Yahweh the Shepherd is expressed in Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall not want”.
The Gospel story of today presents us with one of such instances in which Jesus speaks about Himself as Shepherd. In doing so, He always uses parallels and images, which was familiar and as such would appeal to the people of his day. Thus Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd” John 10:11.
The theme of the Shepherd keeps coming again and again in this chapter of St. John’s Gospel read to us today. Here Jesus distinguishes different types of shepherds.
There is the stranger shepherd who comes in for the first time to lead the flock. The flock does not know him and cannot follow him.
There is the hired shepherd. Unlike the stranger shepherd, the sheep know his voice and follow him because he has been with them for a long time. However, because the sheep are not his, he is not prepared to suffer any inconvenience for their sake. Thus if a dangerous animal attacks the flock, he will run away (John 10:12).
Jesus is none of these types of shepherd. He is the GOOD SHEPHERD.
Jesus Christ describes the baseness and falsehood of the strange and hired shepherd to bring out the qualities of the true Good Shepherd. The scribes and pharisees were supposed to be the shepherds of the people but actually they were far more interested in their own personal gain and glory than in the spiritual welfare of the flock. Their opposition to Jesus sprang from this as the people were following him and this may make them lose their position of leadership and the substantial financial profit it entailed. To these leaders Jesus contrasts Himself as the Good Shepherd.
There are two reasons, as found in the gospel of today, given for His being Good Shepherd.
In the first instance, He, as the Good Shepherd, laid down His life for His sheep. Sheep have a poor sense of direction and are unable to forage well themselves. They are moreover defenseless animals and need a shepherd to protect them. Thus all good shepherds must be ready to do anything, even risk their lives, for their flock.
In ordinary life, no one of course expects a shepherd to lay down his life for an actual flock of sheep. But the salvation of a spiritual flock outweighs, in importance, the physical life of their shepherd and any such shepherd must be prepared to risk and even give up his life for the sake of his flock.
In the case of Christ, the Good Shepherd, He was not merely to risk His life for His sheep, but He would offer that life, a willing victim. Such a death is not merely acceptance of the inevitable: it is a voluntary self-offering.
Jesus, our Good Shepherd gave His life for His sheep, but more than that, He arose triumphantly from death, so that He could continue to tender His sheep to their pasture. Had He remained permanently in the state of death, He could not have redeemed the world. Thus, Christ not only died, as a Good Shepherd, for His sheep, but He became for them a source of more abundant life. It was especially through this passion and resurrection that Christ showed and proved Himself as the Good Shepherd.
Secondly, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because, as He says in the gospel, He knows the sheep intimately. He has shared their human condition. The life of a shepherd is characterized by such an intimate sharing. A good shepherd literally lives among his sheep, sleeping with them, feeding them, feeding them, guiding them over barren and dangerous places to good pasture, being ever on the alert for wolves and other animals that might threaten the flock. Thus, the shepherd knows each sheep. Knowledge implies union between the knower and the one known. The knower possesses the one he knows and at the same time gives himself to him. This is the way Christ the Good Shepherd knows His sheep.
As Christ is the Good Shepherd, who are the sheep ?
St. John in his first letter tells us that we are already the children of God through the love that the Father has lavished on us. As children of God, we are the sheepfolds of Christ. He is our Good Shepherd. We become God’s children through Baptism, which unites us with Christ, the Good Shepherd. Therefore, one privilege of becoming God’s special children is being under the great care of the Good Shepherd. Thus, we no longer roam about like we sheep without a shepherd. The Lord is our Shepherd. His passion and resurrection, which is a sign of His love, turn to be meritorious and effective in our life.
As sheep, certain things are demanded of us if we are to continue to be under the care of the Good Shepherd. Our obligation consists in being good sheep, docile and grateful followers of the Good Shepherd. We must know Him, belong to Him and listen to His voice.
If we are to remain in the sheepfold and continually enjoy the protection of the Good Shepherd, we must learn to listen to the voice of Christ. This is what He expects from us. We must pay attention to where He wants to take us. He as the Good Shepherd is always listening to us when we call to Him.
Do we really belong to His flock? Do we know Him? How many times have we felt His loving grace calling us and helping us back to the safety and security of His sheepfold. Do we listen to Him calling to us? This call comes to us in different ways: in the depths of our hearts, in the scriptures that are read, in a sermon, through a book or the good example of our neighbors. How do we recognize Him as our Good Shepherd who leads us to the true pasture? How often do we turn somewhere else, perhaps to a hired or strange man who lets us down when we need help most?
We by our baptism have been united with Christ. We belong to His sheepfold and enjoy His special care as the Good Shepherd. As sheep, where do you turn in times of depression or when you are “crippled” because things do not go your way?
St. Peter tells us, in the first reading of today, that for all the names in the world given to men it is only in the name of Jesus that we can be saved. The Jews became God’s children through the promise God gave to Abraham their ancestor but they lost this special pelage because of their refusal or neglect to believe in Jesus and belong to his sheepfold. Hence Jesus said they were children of the devil (John 8:44). They failed to recognize Him from his works and would not follow Him.
In addition, however it is not enough that we have Good Sheep. We ourselves must also be good shepherds. Just as Christ conceals Himself in our neighbor, so He also wants to conceal Himself in us as the Good Shepherd. Let us be a good shepherd to all who are entrusted to our care. Every good deed we perform on behalf of our fellow men and women is a proof that we are playing the part of the Good Shepherd to others. Every one ought to be a good shepherd in his or her own particular environment. Even the poor man living alone in his little hut can be a good shepherd – by his prayers, his sufferings, his example and above all in deed by his clarity.
For as St. Thomas Aquinas said, no one can be a Good Shepherd unless he is united with Christ through charity, thus becoming a member of the true shepherd. “The office of a Good Shepherd is charity”. Jesus has given us an example to follow in His footsteps. As He made the greatest of sacrifices for us, so we must make sacrifices for Him and on behalf of others.
Every Christian is called to the witness of and brotherly love peculiar of a Good Shepherd by virtue of our Baptism. Some are called to the priesthood or religious life. This is a call, which by its very nature demands a total self-band giving and following in the footsteps of Christ, leader priest and shepherd. He continues His care for men as the Good Shepherd through those called to this life of total dedication and service for His kingdom.
Our celebration of the Good Shepherd today offers each and every one of an opportunity to reflect on our attitude to the vocation to the religious life and the priesthood. Christ continues His work as the Good Shepherd in a special way through His priests whom He uses as an instrument to bring the supernatural life to his faithful sheep, his people.
If today you hear this voice, harden not your hearts. Do not turn a deaf ear. Parents, you too have a role to play in an important obligation this need. Vocations do not just drop from heaven. Even Jesus himself did not suddenly appear from heaven. He was born of a woman and grew up in a good Jewish family. You parents, then have an important obligation of cooperating with possible vocations in your family. Some parents see a vocation as an interference with their own plans for their children’s welfare.
Of course, however generous we are, God will certainly be more generous to us. What we can give to God is very small compared to what He will give to us. If your children wish to serve God as priests and religious, your duty is to encourage and help them in every possible way. In this manner, you have a share in the salvation of souls.
What more can we do? As Jesus Himself taught us, prayer is the ultimate essential – “pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He send laborers into His harvest.”
This celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday is also designated as World day of Prayer for Vocations. Let us, in communion with all other Catholics worldwide, raise our prayer to the Lord of the harvest that He will send laborers into his harvest who will continue to pasture Christ’s sheep in the midst of present confusion and danger.
May the fire of zeal for souls be kindled in the hearts of our youth so that they listen eagerly and lovingly to Christ’s call whenever it comes to them. And may the parents too listen to God as He reveals to them His wish for their children as His special ministers.
As we pray for more priests after the example of Jesus, the High Priest and Good Shepherd, let us also pray for perseverance on the part of today’s priests and their protection against error or confusion of any kind.
In this way, may Christ the Good Shepherd continue to lead us His sheep along the right path to our time and eternal home in heaven. This is our wish. May this be so for each and every one of us through the same Christ, our Good Shepherd.
Let us pray that God will give us the grace to always recognize and follow Christ the Good Shepherd who leads us faithfully to the green pastures of eternity in heaven. He will surely hear and answer us in whatever distress we find ourselves.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
HEAVENLY FATHER, Lord of the harvest, we earnestly ask you to bless our diocese and our world with many priests and religious who will love you fervently, and gladly and courageously spend their lives in service to your Son’s Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We pray that their lives may be always centered on our Eucharistic Lord, that they may be always faithful to the Holy Father, and that they may be devoted Sons of Mary, our mother, in making you known and loved; and that all may attain heaven. Bless our families and our children and choose from our homes those whom you desire for this holy work. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.