READINGS: Acts 4:8-12/ 1 John 3:1-2/ John 10:11-18
Theme: The Good Shepherd – The Model for Priests and Religious
4th Sunday of Easter
Beloved, today the fourth Sunday of Easter, also referred to as the Good Shepherd Sunday, is set aside for us to pray for priestly and religious vocations. We are to pray for increase in priestly and religious vocations. Secondly, we are to pray that they will be like their model, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. And so my theme is: ‘THE GOOD SHEPHERD – THE MODEL FOR PRIESTS AND RELIGIOUS’.
Beloved imagine that the government of Ghana has built more school blocks across the country such that there is a school for every 50 pupils/students. Imagine again that, on the other hand, the teachers are not adequate: that there is only one teacher for every 1,000 children. This would certainly mean closing down many of the schools.
Let me give you another scenario. Imagine that the government has built more hospitals such that across Ghana there are 100,000 hospitals. With a population of 24 million, this would mean a hospital for every 240 Ghanaians. But assume that there are only 1,000 doctors in Ghana. Even if we over-task each doctor to handle a hospital, this would mean closing down 99,000 hospitals.
You may ask: why is father talking about all these things? Now, let me come closer to the point: imagine we have Catholic Church buildings and communities in all suburbs of all the cities, and in all the towns and villages in Ghana, but the priests and religious are far fewer. Certainly this would mean closing down some of our parishes and outstations! Beloved this is not a mere imagination, because today in Europe and America some once very vibrant parishes have been closed down; and others are even fortunate to be merged together for lack of priests.
This should tell us how important it is to pray for more priestly and religious vocations. We are not only to pray but also to ‘fish’ out some of those God is calling but who may not be ‘hearing’ God’s voice. Remember the story of the call of the young Samuel; it was the old priest Eli who prompted the young man that it was God who was calling. And in the past 7 years, I have often told parishioners here that it was someone who ‘fished’ me out to respond to God’s call. Unfortunately, in these 7 years, none of you have ‘fished’ out someone and brought him or her to me for further directions to become a priest or religious. The 4 seminarians we have now discerned their own calls and came to me directly. This year, I urge all of you to seriously take up the ‘business of fishing out’ some young men and ladies for the vineyard of the Lord.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus talks about the good shepherd who is prepared to lay down his life for his sheep and the hired man who abandons the flock when he sees a wolf, because he works for pay (John 10:11-13). For this reason, while we pray for increase in vocations we should also pray for shepherds with good quality, so that hired men would not intrude to mishandle the flock of the Lord.
Let us now consider the use of the image of ‘shepherd’ in the Old and New Testaments.
The Israelites saw their leaders or kings as shepherds (Ezek. 34). Above all they saw God himself as their shepherd; hence we have the most popular psalm, which runs: ‘The Lord is my shepherd …’ (Ps. 23). They saw the way God brought them safely from Egypt to the Promised Land like a caring shepherd leading his flock safely home (cf. Ps. 80). Several other Psalms refer to God as shepherd and his people as sheep or flock.
But what qualities did the Israelites of old see in ordinary shepherds that they referred to their leaders and even God as shepherds. William Barclay mentions the following as some of the qualities found among responsible shepherds in the initially nomadic communities of Israel:
- they exercised constant vigilance over their flocks so that none of the animals went astray nor was attacked,
- they exhibited fearless courage in the face of wild beasts [because they were expected to produce evidence if any of the sheep was killed by a beasts (Exo. 22:13); the evidence could be 2 legs of the sheep or an ear (Amos 3:12); remember David, before his battle with Goliath, told King Saul how he had rescued his father’s sheep from the mouth of lions and even killed lions and bears (1 Sam. 17:34-36)] or armed robbers.
- some of them sacrificed their lives in the process of protecting the animals,
- they showed patient love for strayed sheep, and
- they were caring providers who led their flock to where they could feed.
While sometimes the Israelites were disappointed in their leaders for lacking the above shepherd-qualities (Ezek. 34), they saw all these qualities and more in God. So, for instance, when they said: ‘the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want [they believed in his constant vigilance and caring provision]. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me besides the still waters [caring provider] . . . Even though I walk in the valley of darkness no evil will I fear [fearless courage] . . .’
In the New Testament, Jesus, the Son of God, truly embodies all the above qualities; so he can rightly be called the GOOD SHEPHERD (John 10: 1-18).
Constant Vigilance: Jesus constantly watches over us: ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will by no means cast out . . . This is the will of the Father who sent me, that I should lose none of those he has given me’ (John 6:37-39). We would be eternally grateful to him if we could see just one of his countless acts of vigilance over us: his protection against ‘spiritual anopheles mosquitoes’ which fly over us ever night while we are asleep!
Fearless Courage: Jesus knew what awaited him in Jerusalem, but he fearlessly went there even in a public manner in order to save us. Again, like courageous shepherd fearlessly embracing the danger awaiting him, he told his disciples at the Last Supper: ‘All of your will be made to stumble because of me this night, for it is written, “I will strike the SHEPHERD, and the sheep will be scattered.”’ (Mark 14:27).
Selfless Sacrifice: Jesus says, ‘I am the GOOD SHEPHERD, I lay down my life for my sheep . . . I lay down my life of my own accord’ (John 10:11, 18). He has offered the one perfect sacrifice out of love to save us all.
Patient Love: Jesus looks for the one lost sheep among the 100 sheep (Luke 15:1-7). Consider how many times we sin and yet he constantly looks for us and brings us to the Father.
Caring Provider: Jesus said, ‘I am the door; if anyone enters, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find PASTURE . . . I have come that you might have life and have it in abundance’ (John 10:9-10).
In the New Testament, the leaders of the church are also referred to as shepherds. Jesus, after his resurrection, told St. Peter to feed his sheep and lambs. St. Peter took up the responsibility seriously and in his first letter he called upon other leaders of the church to be true shepherds. It is because of our role as shepherds that we [church leaders] are called ‘pastors’. It is a translation of the Latin word for shepherds [‘pastores’] (Eph. 4:11).
Finally, borrowing the words of St. Peter, I pray that we [priests and religious] will ‘shepherd the flock which God has entrusted to [us], guarding it not out of obligation but willingly for God’s sake; not as [those] looking for profit but with a generous heart; [that we will] not lord it over those in [our] care, rather be an example to [our] flock. Then when the CHIEF SHEPHERD appears, [we] will be given a crown of unfading glory’ (1 Peter 5:2-4). Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis