“GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY”.
Acts 4. 7 – 12
Second Reading: 1 John 3. 1 – 2
Gospel John 10. 11 – 18
Speaking of compassion, Henri Nouwen “compassion asks us to go where it hurts; to enter
into the places of pain; to share in brokenness, fear, confusion and anguish. Compassion
challenges us to cry out with those in misery; to mourn with those who are lonely; to weep
with those in tears.”
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. The gospel draws a comparison between the way the good
shepherd and the hireling relate to the sheep and the wolf. For the hireling, this is just a job;
he has no real interest in the sheep; they are not his own. There are limits to his compassion,
to what he will tolerate. When he sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and flees, and the
wolf snatches them and scatters them.
Whereas the good shepherd sees the sheep as his own: “I know mine, and mine know me.”
He is moved with compassion at all times; he feels for the sheep.
Jesus illustrates his teaching by referring to shepherds and sheep, seeing himself as the Good
Shepherd foretold by the prophets. It’s about the relationship between the shepherd and the
sheep. Though the imagery is old, the message is topical. It is relevant to us here and now. .
By faith we accept Jesus, and our relationship is a deeply personal one. The bond of love
uniting us is based on the love that unites the Father and Jesus. Our new existence is founded
on God’s unbreakable love and faithfulness.
In order to enter eternal life we must listen to Jesus and obey him. The alternative opening
prayer puts this in practical terms. We have to tune our minds to the sound of his voice. Self-
centredness can make us deaf to the voice of Jesus. Easy options can draw us into easier paths
than the one he has traced. Pressure to abandon Christian principles is inevitable. But God is
faithful and will not let us be tempted beyond our strength. No one can drag us away from
him, The Father has entrusted us to his Son. The same God who kept faith with Jesus by
raising him from the dead will also raise us by his power.
The first reading talks about the stone that was rejected by the builders becoming the
keystone of the building. There is a clear reference there to Jesus himself, the rejected one.
We can all feel at times like the rejected stone, for whatever reason. Yet, we are never
rejected in the Lord’s eyes. He continues to call us in the way that is unique to us. He sees us
as the keystone for some aspect of his work. He recognizes the potential for good that is
within us all.
Paul and Barnabas ‘spoke out boldly’, and made an impact. A courageous proclamation of
the gospel to our contemporaries can be as fruitful now as it was in apostolic times. All the
baptized, particularly those who are confirmed, are bound to spread the faith. Laity as well as
priests and religious are in the service of the Risen Lord. Our faith urges us to take personal
part in the work of evangelisation. Are we doing so?
When people go to Rome on pilgrimage, they usually try to include a visit to the Catacombs,
the earliest Christian cemeteries in existence. The earliest Christian art is there in the
catacombs, in images are very simple and unadorned compared to the art that would emerge
in later centuries. Yet these pictures are very striking just because of their simplicity and
directness. One of the images of Jesus most found in the catacombs is that of the Good
Shepherd. One is in the Catacomb of San Callistus, showing a young beardless man with a
sheep draped around his shoulders and holding a bucket of water in his right hand. Clearly
the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd that we find in today’s gospel spoke to Christians
from the earliest days of the church.
The shepherd image in the catacombs appealed to Christians from the start, because it
conveys the personal nature of the relationship between Jesus and his followers; it portrays
the close personal care that the shepherd has for the sheep. The shepherd has gone looking for
the one sheep that was wandered off and having found it, he takes it home to the flock upon
his shoulders. There is a bond between the shepherd and this one sheep. That is what Jesus
conveys in today’s gospel. He declares that he knows his own and his own know him, just as
the Father knows him and he knows the Father. It is an extraordinary statement to make.
Jesus is saying that the very personal relationship he has with his heavenly Father is the
model for the equally personal relationship he has with each one of us. Jesus knows us as
intimately as the Father knows him, and he wants us to know him as intimately as he knows
the Father. There is a great deal to ponder there. When it comes to the Lord we are not just
one of a crowd, lost in a sea of faces. In a way that we will never fully understand, the Lord
knows each one of us by name. He relates to us in a personal way and he invites us to relate
to him in a personal way. He wishes to enter into a personal relationship with each one of us.
I am often struck by a line in Saint Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, where he says, ‘I
live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’. We can each make
our own those words of Saint Paul. When Jesus says in today’s gospel that, as the good
shepherd, ‘I lay down my life for my sheep’, he is saying that he lays down his life for each
one of us individually.
The Lord who knows us by name, who gave himself in love for each one of us, also calls us
by name. Today is Vocations Sunday. The Lord has a calling that is personal to each one of
us. He calls us in our uniqueness with our very particular temperament, our unique identity,
the background that is specific to each one of us. No one of us is like anyone else. Parents
know how distinct and unique each of their children is. They will all have been given the
same love; they grow up in basically the same environment. Yet, from a very early age, their
uniqueness becomes very evident. The family is a microcosm of the church as a whole. From
the time of our baptism, we are each called to be the Lord’s disciples, to follow the good
Shepherd. However, the way we do that will be unique to each one of us. The particular way
in which the Lord works through us is unique to each one of us. I can do something for the
Lord that only I can do. Each person in this church can do something for the Lord that only
he or she can do. Each one of us has a unique contribution to make to the work of the Lord in
the world, to the life of the church, and that contribution is just as vital as anyone else’s
contribution. We each have a unique vocation and each vocation is equally significant. Each
one of us is vitally important to the Lord. When we each respond to our unique vocation, we
give a lift to everyone else. When any one of us fails to respond to that vocation, we are all a
little bit impoverished.
On this Vocations Sunday we commit ourselves anew to hearing and responding to the call of
the good shepherd.
World Day of Prayer for Vocations
Heavenly Father, bless Your Church with an abundance of holy and zealous priests, deacons,
brothers and sisters. Give those You have called to the married state, and those You have
chosen to live as single persons in the world, the special graces that their lives require. Form
us all in the likeness of Your Son, so that in Him, with Him and through Him, we may love
you more deeply and serve you more faithfully always and everywhere. With Mary we ask
this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God bless you. Have a wonderful week.