by Fr. Dumisani Vilakati
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First reading: Acts 13: 14, 43-52
Responsorial psalm: Psalm 100
Second reading: Revelation 7: 9, 14b-17
Gospel: John 10: 27-30
With the fourth Sunday of Easter we are invited to look upon Jesus as the Good Shepherd who gives us eternal life. Traditionally this Sunday is also dedicated to the prayer, care and support of vocations, especially to the ordained ministry and religious life.
The theme of a shepherd is quite present in Sacred Scripture. Moses and David, both prominent personalities in the Old Testament, were shepherds. Moses met God and received his vocation whilst looking after the flock of his father in law Jethro (Cf. Ex 3). David also received his vocation and anointing as king whilst he was busy looking after the flock of his father Jesse (1 Sam 16:11). In some societies being a shepherd does not carry much prestige as it is a “smelly” profession. Even for the ancient Egyptians it was simply an abomination to follow animals (Cf. Gen 46:34). It is worth recalling that being a shepherd requires a lot of commitment as animals need daily care. There is no holiday in this profession.
Jesus chooses to reveal himself to both his enemies and followers as a shepherd. Moreover, the first receivers of the good news of the birth of Jesus were shepherds (Lk. 2:8-20). In a way we can say that God has raised this profession to some nobility and uses it as a metaphor for those called to ministry in the Church. All those called to ministry are invited to show the commitment of a shepherd as they minister to God’s people.
The first reading recalls the commitment of Paul and Barnabas in the service of the word of the Lord in spite of the difficulties encountered. After some resistance to receive the word of the Lord among the Jews they turn to the pagans. Already we see the posture of a shepherd who is not just interested in the flock that is in the stable but goes out to seek others and in this case the pagans. The shepherd goes out to look for the lost sheep (Cf. Lk. 15:4-7).
The responsorial psalm emphasises the issue of belonging. “Recognise that the Lord is God. He made us and we are His. We are His people, the flock of his pasture”. It is important to remember that even those who call themselves shepherds in the Church should also see themselves as members of the flock. In another well-known psalm with David as author we learn that “the Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23:1).
The second reading gives some assurance that we will be counted among the Lord’s flock. John sees a huge crowd which cannot be counted. In this crowd are people of every nation, tribe and language. This gives a sense of God’s wish or plan to save all of humanity. These people are standing before the throne and the Lamb, dressed in white clothes and giving praise to God. The emphasis is on the role of the Lamb which stands among them. This Lamb will be their shepherd and will guide them to the fountains of living water. An interesting thing to note here is the Lamb who becomes a shepherd at the same time. This is Jesus himself whom John the Baptist calls the Lamb of God and he calls himself the good shepherd. The difficulties of this time will not last as God will wipe away all tears.
The gospel recalls Jesus’ self-presentation as the Good Shepherd. In this sense he follows upon the footsteps of both Moses and David. Jesus’ discourse takes place in a tense environment as the Jews ask him to speak clearly about his identity. With the truth clearly placed before them, the Jews begin to abuse him with the desire to stone him. The truth is Jesus is the Good Shepherd promised by God, unlike the shepherds who feed themselves with God’s flock.
Important words are indicated about Jesus’ flock. In the first place is the ability to LISTEN to the voice of Jesus. Obviously the Jews are refusing to listen to what Jesus has to say. Secondly, is the need to FOLLOW the Good Shepherd. In Palestine flocks follow the shepherd unlike in our case where the shepherd drives the flock from the back. Again, the Jews refuse to follow Jesus. It is worth remembering, especially in our world today filled with so much noise, that the main prayer of Israel is an invitation to listen. “Listen Oh Israel…” (Dt. 6:4). Then there is the promise of ETERNAL LIFE. Listening to Jesus and following him is a sure path to the supreme gift which is eternal life. This is the reason why we are members of the Church. It is to attain eternal life. Jesus’ commitment to us, his people, is constant and everlasting.
As we journey through Easter, let us pray for more vocations to the various ministries in the Church, especially ordained ministry and religious life. Let us pray that more people may listen to the word of God and have the courage to follow the Good Shepherd. Lastly, let us set our sights not just on this life but in the life to come in heaven where we will enjoy the gift of eternal life together with the Lamb as we worship God, the one who sits upon the throne.