Fourth Sunday Easter Homily Year B

 

WANTED: Shepherds after my own Heart

I am be good shepherd” (In)

            “If you fail in your exams, go and join the Jesuits!” said a cheeky parent‘friend to his teenaged son on hearing that l was a ‘vocation promoter’, years ago. Indignant, my instinctive reply was, “lf your son fails, keep him for yourself!” Today, I’d laugh at such a comment; but that man implied something, namely, pack off your dull children for priesthood, but let the clever ones do something better. Today, on so-called ‘Shepherd Sunday’, the Church invites us to pray for vocations. It’s thus fitting to reflect on the role of ‘shepherds’ in the light of Good Shepherd: Jesus.

            Priestly ministry in rural Gujarat made me aware of two types of shepherds and sheep. First, the shepherds and sheep inhabiting verdant valleys and hills of south Gujarat’s adivasi land were a ‘free fold’ that roamed vast expanses of land with plenty of pasture available. The Govaliyas (shepherds) dwelt on the outskirts of the village, and though illiterate, were amazingly adept at differentiating between sheep, goats, ewes and rams, no matter how big the fold was. Secondly, during dry summer months, one witnessed a mass migration of Kathiawadis whose sheep were conditioned to walk in never-ending columns along the highway. While there were marked differences between Govaliyas and Kathiawadis, one thing was clear: all shepherds were caring and fiercely protective of their sheep, and all sheep obeyed their shepherds at all times. Not many ‘strayed’.

            There is no dearth of shepherd language and symbolisms in the Bible. Israel’s kings, prophets, priests and leaders were regarded as shepherds. Sheep and goats were part and parcel of daily life, communitarian festivals, cultic sacrifices, and folk tales and so on. Thus, in language reminiscent of God’s solemn “I am who I am” (EX 3:14) disclosure to Moses, Jesus declares, “I am the good shepherd” in today’s gospel. What follows is a lengthy description of the traits of a good shepherd and of good sheep.

            The criterion for either shepherd or sheep to be ‘good’ consists in undergoing a process of: (a) knowing, (b) loving, and (c) dying. But the difference between shepherd and sheep is that the shepherd’s knowledge, love and self-sacrifice precede that of the sheep, and are conscious choices, while any ‘knowing’ and ‘attachment’ of sheep to shepherd, is but unconscious and instinctive.

            In the first reading we have, once again, Peter fearlessly witnessing to the Lord’s crucifixion-resurrection. Peter’s proclamation is a kind of defense of his healing of the cripple (Acts ch.3). Note how this same Peter – whom we’d call ‘First Shepherd’ – goes through a process of knowing -) loving 9 self – sacrifice when Jesus first asks him, “Do you love me?” and, only after his ‘yes’, ordains him to “Feed my sheep!” (in 21:15-23).

            Without love, all ministries are meaningless. A cripple outside a church once begged a bishop for alms. The bishop smiled and said, “I can’t say, like Peter, silver and gold l have none!” The cripple retorted, “Neither can you say: ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk’” You’ve certainly heard jokes aimed at bishops, priests and nuns. But, jokes apart, do we ever think of ‘vocations’ as something to be prayed for, and promoted?

            Every Christian has a vacation to be good, caring and compassionate. But, today, there is specific need of many more young women and men who will totally devote their time, talents and energies to be good leaders. ‘Leading sheep’ also demands humility and a readiness ‘to be led’. A good ‘pastor’ Martin Luther King, Jr. succinctly said, “There go my people and I must follow them for I am their leader.” Are priests ready not only to lead but to follow too?

            Let us continue praying for ‘praying priests’ – not ‘preying priests’, a? Someone described priests accused of sexual aberrations – to know Him. Knowing leads to loving. Didn’t God promise, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart?” (Jer 3:15). And, if the Good Shepherd calls, will you joyously follow Him too?

Mass Readings

Reading 1 ACTS 4:8-12
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said:
“Leaders of the people and elders:
If we are being examined today
about a good deed done to a cripple,
namely, by what means he was saved,
then all of you and all the people of Israel should know
that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.
He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.
There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29
R. (22) The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.
R. The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my savior.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
R. The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD;
we bless you from the house of the LORD.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my savior.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his kindness endures forever.
R. The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 1 JN 3:1-2
Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Alleluia JN 10:14
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 10:11-18
Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”

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