Sunday April 30
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the flock
First Reading Acts. . 14a, 36b – 41. Psalm: 23. Second Reading: 1 Peter 20b – 25.
Gospel: John 10. 1 – 10.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John.
Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by
the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who
enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate
for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and
leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them,
and they sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a
stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of
Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what
he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them. “Very truly, I tell you, I
am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits,
but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will
be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only
to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it
Some years ago, a great actor was asked at a drawing room function to give a
recitation for the pleasure of his fellow guests. He consented, asking if there was
anything they especially wanted to hear. After a few minutes’ pause, an old
minister asked for psalm 23. A strange look came over the actor’s face. He
paused for a moment, then said, “I will, on condition that after I have recited it,
you, my friend, will do the same.”
The preacher said, in surprise, “I am not an elocutionist, but, if you wish it, I shall
do so.” Impressively the actor began the psalm. His voice and intonation were
perfect. He held his audience spellbound and, as he finished, a great burst of
applause broke from his guests. As it died away, the old man rose and began to
declaim the same psalm. His voice was not remarkable, his tone was not faultless,
but, when he finished, there was not a dry eye in the room.
The actor rose and his voice quivered as he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I reached
your eyes and ears; he has reached your hearts. The difference is just this: I know
the Psalm but he knows the shepherd.”
These days as we know, there is no scarcity of messiahs and saviours. But Jesus
warns us emphatically, you will be ‘despoiled’ and ‘destroyed’, for people who
make fantastic promises are only thieves and robbers. Such an absolute
pronouncement comes as a rude shock to our modern minds which leave ample
space for ‘tolerance’ and ‘religious pluralism’. What makes Jesus different from
‘all others’? Why does He insist on such exclusivism? What does He promise to
Jesus, in crystal clear terms, tells us that He is the One; yes, He is the only One
who has come into the world to give us access to a new place, to a new ‘vital
place’…. He has come to invite us to come out of our own little world’s limited
horizons to an infinite and eternal world of peace, freedom and vitality. In Jesus
we find God inviting man into His own ‘space’. Here alone is our true liberty….
Here alone are we able to breathe really and expand to the infinite.
“In fact, it is obvious that Jesus alone opens up an infinite vital space for man.
Outside Him, mankind is strictly shut within itself: no ideology, no political or
social leaders, no scientific discovery…. can liberate us from the fate of being
mere men, – and hence, from dying….But Jesus, man and God, leads us away from
our limitations and introduces us into the divine domain….the door opens onto the
infinite…the Eternal… It depends on each one of us whether the door ‘opening
unto the infinite’ be opened for us only on the last day, at the hour of our death…
Why are we not going already now, through this door which leads us on to
God…?” (Pray with the Bible. Vol. 6).
This is an experience, an experience of God in Jesus Christ. This is the beginning
of one consciously becoming a Christian. It is also the starting point of the
activation of the life baptism infused into us. As this life develops by means of
personal appropriation of the salvation God worked for us in Jesus Christ, our
experience of God becomes deeper and deeper. At the core of this experience
stands Christ as the Good Shepherd.
Whatever Christianity may mean to us, without this pivotal experience,
Christianity will remain a rather dreary thing. This experience is the core of the
Good News, that is, that God loves and cares for us. Jesus equates this
knowledge/experience with eternal life. “And eternal life means knowing You, the
only true God, and knowing Jesus Christ whom You sent” (Jn 17:3). This eternal
life begins here and now. To experience Christ as our Good Shepherd is to
experience Him as our Saviour. And Jesus means SAVIOUR.
“Lord Jesus Christ, the things that hold us back from You are so varied: all those
sterile worries, futile pleasures and vain preoccupations. So many things lend to
distract or frighten us and make us hold back; pride which makes us too cowardly
to accept help from others – timidity which draws us back to self-destruction,
remorse for past sins which flees before the purity of what is holy as sickness flees
from the doctor’s remedy. And yet in spite of all, you are stronger than all. Draw
us to you even more strongly. “ – Soren Kirkegaard.
Am I deeply conscious that Jesus knows me through and through, calls me by my
name, cares for me most minutely, and loves me most intimately?
To such a Jesus, what is my response?
God our Father is the true Shepherd. He is present everywhere watching over all
creatures! His care is for everyone and his love has no limit. He watches over
each of his children with equal care! All that he desires that we go to him, in
Christ, in order that we too might be one with him. If we are one with Christ, then
we will be able to say, like the Lord “I and the Father are one.” In fact, it is not
we, who will speak this word but rather Christ who will speak it for us, for only he
is the equal of God, being God himself. But, in order for Jesus to be able to speak
on our behalf, let us receive him within us, during today’s Holy Communion. Let
us ask Mary, our mother to help us to receive within us the Lord , King of the
The readings of today are intimately linked with the second them of the Sunday.
Not only is it Good Shepherd Sunday, it is also “Vocation Sunday”. On this day
we are especially asked first of all to pray that the Church may be provided with
the leaders to do its work of spreading the Gospel. We know that at the present
time there is a critical shortage of such leaders, at least in the traditional sense –
priest and religious. While we may earnestly pray that our Church is supplied with
the leader’s it needs, not merely as priests and religious but lay person who would
lead people to God.
At the same time we must be clear of the term vocation. We have for too long
given a much too narrow meaning to the word ‘vocation’. We tend to limit it to a
calling to be a priest or a member of a religious institute. But, in fact, every single
one of us has a vocation, as we are being called by God to be spouses, parents,
teachers, doctors, and civil servants running a business, salespersons,… or
whatever. That is the calling which demands fidelity to God and to the task
personally chosen. God is calling every single one of us to work for the Gospel.
Jesus the Good Shepherd carrying us on his shoulders is symbolized in a beautiful
way by the Pallium which archbishops wear over their shoulders while celebrating
Mass. The Pallium is made from lamb’s wool. During the Mass for the
inauguration of his Pontificate on Sunday April 24 th 2005 Late Emeritus Pope
Benedict explained the significance of the Pallium beautifully in this way,
…the lamb’s wool is meant to represent the lost, sick or weak sheep
which the shepherd places on his shoulders and carries to the waters of
life. The human race – every one of us – is the sheep lost in the desert
which no longer knows the way. The Son of God will not let this happen;
he cannot abandon humanity in so wretched a condition. He leaps to his
feet and abandons the glory of heaven, in order to go in search of the
sheep and pursue it, all the way to the Cross. He takes it upon his
shoulders and carries our humanity; he carries us all – he is the good
shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. What the Pallium indicates
first and foremost is that we are all carried by Christ. But at the same
time it invites us to carry one another. Hence the Pallium becomes a
symbol of the shepherd’s mission…
As Pope Benedict said, the Pallium is an invitation to carry one another, we are all
to be shepherds to each other, to carry each other on our shoulders. But all of you
preparing to become priests are preparing to share in a special way in the mission
of the Good Shepherd to carry the weak members of the flock on your shoulders.
Jesus the Good Shepherd is your model.
Since Jesus is the Good Shepherd and not a hired hand, he does not run away when
the wolf comes, instead he lays down his life for his sheep. Instead the hired hand
runs away when the wolf comes. Jesus the Good Shepherd, shepherded to the point
of giving his life for his sheep, dying on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. The
Good Shepherd became the Lamb of God. All who are preparing to become priests
are laying down your lives for your future flocks. The Good Shepherd loves you
and your love for the Good Shepherd drives you to lay down your life to bring
others to Jesus the Good Shepherd. True love is not just emotional but makes
sacrifices for the sake of the beloved. Many times in your future ministry you will
sacrifice yourself for the sake of carrying your flock on your shoulder. But you
also know that Jesus the Good Shepherd will not be outdone in generosity to you.
Today let us pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, that many will
be inspired to show true love, to the point of sacrificing many other attractive
options to become priests of Jesus, to follow him in religious life. In our time, as in
Ezekiel’s people are given over to pillage and are food for every wild beast. May
Jesus the Good Shepherd raise up many shepherds after his own heart to lay down
their lives and carry his sheep on their shoulders.