Today we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, a day set aside where the Church invites the people of God to pray specially for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The gospel that we heard on this Fourth Sunday of Easter is that of Jesus presenting Himself as the good shepherd. The image of the good shepherd may be an image that many of us are familiar with… as we were growing up, many homes had the picture of Jesus carrying a sheep on one hand and a staff on the other. It is also an image that we find in many cathedrals and churches presented in great stain glass works.
However, the account in the gospel is unique only to the gospel of John and not found in the other gospels. It is put right after Jesus tells His disciples “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The image of the good shepherd as presented by John in his gospel, highlights three core characteristics of a good shepherd as opposed to a hired shepherd.
First characteristic is that, a good shepherd is ready to lay down his life for the sheep; whereas a hired shepherd runs away as soon as any sign of danger approaches. Second characteristic is that the good shepherd will also take care of the sheep that are not his own. Sometime when shepherds are out in the field, a sheep from another flock may stray into this flock. A good shepherd will realise that it is not his own but will still care for it. Third characteristic is the good shepherd watches over his flock simply because he cares for them and not that he is paid to care for them. It comes from a special kind of relationship that he shares with the sheep. All these three core characteristics then produce only one response from the sheep… and that is, they know him and they listen to his voice.
All these three-core characteristics point towards the paschal mystery that we have just celebrated… the passion, death and the resurrection of Jesus. The willingness of the shepherd to sacrifice one’s life points to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus makes on the cross; the caring for the strayed sheep points to the unity that Jesus prayed to His Father in heaven just before embracing the cross and finally the special relationship that the shepherd shares with the sheep points towards the new relationship Jesus establishes by His resurrection with all those who believe in Him.
Since Jesus is presented to us today as the Good Shepherd, it also calls for one response, just like the sheep… to know Him and to listen to His voice. We live in a world that presents not just one voice but many different voices. Sometimes in agreement to our faith and there are times opposing our faith. Sometimes the opposing voices seem to drown the voice of truth and because of that, we can quite easily be misled to think that the opposing voices are the voice of truth. We live in a world where it is challenging to be able to be a discerning community… to hear the voice of truth and to show courage to stand up (even stand out) on the side of truth, irrespective of the consequences. We, the Church need to be the voice of truth – a voice of truth that is motivated by love and not hatred. In the second reading, John in his epistle reminds us of the love that God has lavished upon us and therefore it is love that must motivate all our actions… we cannot be reactionary but responding with the love that has been poured out on us, the Church.
The voice of truth is often the view of the minority and that is why on many occasions truth can be manipulated by the majority for a specific agenda. The good shepherd calls us today to listen attentively to His voice and His voice alone so that we may not go astray or even worse, begin to think that the opposing views are now the voice of truth. We, the people of God, the Church, must always be the voice of truth!
Today we are called to pray for more vocations. We may or may not be aware that there is a great shortage of priests and even more alarmingly declining number of men and women in religious life… even though we have three new priests in the Archdiocese in 10 days’ time. We have heard it being said on countless occasions, the harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few… pray to the Lord of the harvest to send more labourers” (cf. Mt 9:37-38). One can attribute to many reasons why there is a worldwide decrease in vocations… has God stopped calling men and women to this way of life? God has certainly not stopped but many people don’t hear His voice anymore, simply because His voice has been drowned out by the other voices in the world, to name a few, the insatiable greed of materialism that poverty of spirit is not attractive (poverty), the deceptive voice of self-satisfaction that drowns out the call to be generous (celibacy), and the sense of apathy or indifference which pervades our society today that impedes the desired response to the call of God (obedience). We all want more priests for additional masses which includes weddings, funerals, special occasions, house blessings, and the countless other programmes… and the list can go on and on… but where are priests and religious men and women going to come from… they are certainly not going to drop from the sky, but they can only come from you… the people of God, the families. If the community does not provide, then the Church cannot provide too. We can keep lamenting… we have not enough priests but if we do not stop and listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd… we will continue to lament, mourn, and even groan.
Let’s not just be contented with praying once a year for vocations… but train ourselves like sheep, to hear the voice of the good shepherd and discover what state of life He is calling us to and to show courage to even take the road less travelled.
– 22 April 2018