04.25.2021 Fourth Sunday of Easter



Philippe de Champaigne

(1602 - 1674)

“The Good Shepherd”

Musee des Beaux Arts - Tours


Lectio

John 10: 11-18

11 “Jesus said: ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father’”.


Meditatio

Context

The Gospel for this Sunday is the second part of Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John. The first part, John 10:1-10, which we meditated on last year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A), begins with the theme of the Good Shepherd and the Gate: Jesus Himself. The Gospel we reflect upon today continues with the beautiful theme of the Good Shepherd who goes to the extreme of laying down his life for the sheep[1].


Introduction

The Gospel of Easter Sunday invites us to lead joyful lives and to be always ready to announce our Saviour to the world. This Sunday we contemplate Jesus as the Good Shepherd who knows each of his sheep by name[2] and they too listen to his voice[3].


We are invited this Sunday to pray especially for vocations to the Priesthood and the Religious Life. When we talk of ‘vocation’ in this context we are talking about a commitment to serve our Faith Community. It is a commitment to share what we have studied and learned. To share the experience of God in prayer. It is a call for life.


‘Vocation’ is about sharing God’s love for each one of us, our love for God and our love for one another. Pope Francis affirms that this service should be done like “shepherds who have the smell of the sheep”. To be called is a great joy, and a privilege to shepherd the People of God in this particular moment of history. Again, the Church needs true and faithful shepherds to lead the People of God through the challenges encountered in the world and in the Church. This is an invitation to pray continuously for vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life.


The true Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd is regarded as the most beautiful image chosen by Jesus for Himself. There are many passages in the Old Testament which speak of God as the Shepherd of Israel. Chapter 10 of the Gospel of John is undoubtedly the most complete and striking of such passages found in the New Testament.


The image of the Good Shepherd transmits tenderness and love. He is always looking after the sheep and ready to risk his life to defend them just as David was when looking after the sheep of his father[4].


The Good Shepherd protects the Sheep from ‘wolves’ and ‘robbers’

Saint Paul in the Acts of the Apostles warns the elders of Ephesus that after his departure, people from within and from outside the Community of Believers would try to separate them from the Good Shepherd and from the Tradition of the Church.


Matthew in his Gospel also warns about the ‘sheep’ having to move among ‘wolves’[5] . A shepherd, therefore, needs to be alert in order to identify and face down the ‘wolves’ with the assurance that the Spirit of Jesus is there to accompany him.


Who are the ‘wolves’ and ‘serpents’ that Matthew is speaking about? Are they perhaps those we regard as enemies of the Church? Those who taunt us or deride our Faith and spirituality? Those who laugh at us or despise us? Or those in the Church who are going astray, and invite others to follow them?


Could we not also consider such ‘wolves’ and ‘serpents’ as lost sheep in need of our care, attention and love?


But I have other sheep who are not of this fold[6]

The ultimate aim of Jesus is that one day all peoples and all nations will come to know Him as their true Shepherd and will be part His flock.


There were voices in the Old Testament which insisted that God was not the exclusive preserve of Israel, but that her destiny was to make Him known to all peoples[7].


We believe that the only thing which can cross barriers and break down divisions among peoples is the Gospel of Jesus Christ which proclaims the universal Fatherhood of God. The God and Father of Jesus Christ is our common Father[8]. The image of Jesus carrying the lost sheep on his shoulders is an allusion to the immense love and mercy of God the Father coming to us through his Son, Jesus Christ.


Conclusion

Jesus calls on his Followers to work continuously at gathering all peoples and nations into one flock with Him as the One Shepherd. This is far from being complete. Pope Francis echoes the call of the Lord by insisting we are all ‘missionary disciples’. A difficult service, a difficult task, but one in which we will have success if we trust in the One who sends us.


Oratio

“Lord Jesus, You are our Good Shepherd,

You know us and want us to know You.

You are attentive to each one of us.

You know the depths of our being, our gifts and our failings,

the projects we have carried out

and the hopes that have gone unfulfilled.

You accept us as we are, even with our sinfulness,

so as to heal and forgive us.

You accompany us.

Let our encounter with You

spur our desire to follow You more closely.

Help us to abandon all self-referential attitudes,

and set our new paths open to the vast horizons of your Holy Spirit”.


Adapted from a text by Pope Francis.

Contemplatio

From Pope Francis:

During Holy Week in 2013, Pope Francis called on the world’s priests to stay close to the vulnerable and marginalized, to be “shepherds who have the smell of the sheep”.


“This is what I am asking you,” he said with emphasis, looking up from his prepared text, “be shepherds with the smell of the sheep”.


In Evangelii Gaudium [EG] Pope Francis issued the same call to all Christians, that they must be ‘missionary disciples’.

This is a challenge for each one of us in our various roles of ‘leading’ and ‘shepherding’ others: whether it be our children, our students, our Parishioners, our neighbours, colleagues or others in the wider community.


How do we ‘live among’ and remain close to the little ones, the poor, the vulnerable, those who grieve, and those facing difficult daily challenges, whether they be psychological, spiritual or economic?

[1] John 10:15: “And I lay down my life for my sheep”. [2] John 10:14: “I know my own and my own know me”. [3] John 10:16 “and they will hear my voice”. [4] 1 Samuel 17:34: “Your servant [David] used to keep sheep for his father; and when there came a lion, or a bear took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and smote him …”. [5] Matthew 20:16: “Behold I send you out as a sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocents as doves”. [6] John 10:16: “ … These too I must bring in, and they will hear my voice; and they will become one flock, and there will be one shepherd”. [7] Isaiah 56:8: “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered”. [8] Matthew 6:9: “Our Father in heaven”.

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