The 4th Sunday of Easter is called the Good Shepherd Sunday during which we read from the 10th chapter of St John’s Gospel where Jesus refers to himself as Good shepherd. By the image of the “shepherd” what message does Jesus want to communicate to us? On this Sunday we are invited to pray for vocations. But for which vocations should we be praying for?
Bible readings Acts 13: 14, 43–52 Psalm 100: 2–3, 5 Apocalypse 7: 9, 14–17 John 10: 27–30
Role of the shepherd
The shepherd accompanies his sheep to the pastures where they can eat and, possibly also, drink. He protects them from the attacks of thieves and predators. A bad shepherd is one who falls short in these responsibilities. Instead of using the battle to spur on his animals, he uses it to inflict pain; instead of being vigilant he becomes distracted by his personal preoccupations -leaving some of the sheep straying away where they are exposed to danger. And at the appearance of danger, instead of thinking of the security of animals, he runs away for his safety leaving them at mercy of enemies. This the reproach you hear against shepherds in the Old Testament.
Who are shepherds?
In the Old Testament all those who oversee people are compared to shepherds. Often, God is not happy with them for they lack not only the diligence in their job but also the compassion. Instead of being protecting, they exploit. Ezekiel expresses this symbolically: these shepherds devour the fattened lambs and use their skins to make themselves nice clothes. The sick and weak ones are not taken care of and those who stray have no one to search for them.
“You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So, they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them” (Ezekiel 34:4-6).
Jesus, incarnation of God the shepherd
Because of such abuse, God resolves to come down and he himself will take care of his flock. In Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we have the incarnation of the tenderness of the Father which several parables testify: parable of the lost sheep, the prodigal son, or the lost coin. If he has a battle of authority is not for beating, neither is it for passing a sentence of condemnation. He accompanies to sustain, encourage and to bring the best of each person, whatever his situation. Think of Zacchaeus, Mathew in the tax booth, or the woman on death row after being caught in adultery. The encounter with Jesus blooms new life in them. That’s Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the image of the father, who accompanies us to bring the best out of us.
So, talking about vocation we can’t limit ourselves to priesthood and religious life; these are but only part of the Christian community in which every person has his place. And whatever our place and role, each person is called to carry out his function with the spirit of Jesus the Good Shepherd. So, this Sunday for vocations, firstly, reminds us how we ourselves benefit from this enabling presence of God in our lives: he accompanies by nourishing us with his word and by his body and blood. And secondly, reminds us of our own mission.
So we should ask ourselves: by my presence in my family, at my place of work or among friends; what kind of shepherd am I? Do I use the baton to smash or to encourage and sustain? The document in preparation of the 2nd synod on the family speaks of the relation of the pastor vis-à-vis the persons facing challenges in their family life: a pastor should know when to be in front to lead, when to be behind to allow the persons do their own journey or when to be beside them to console them. Indeed, in accompanying we don’t replace the other doing the journey in their place, no; we walk along as companions, as friends.
Let’s pray that we may be, first, the sheep that hear the voice of Christ our shepherd, so that sustained by his tenderness, we may also, in turn, find the energy to be good companions to others, especially those who are walking with difficulty the journey of their lives.
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