By Fr. Siby Kuriakose, Kavattu CMI, Archdiocese of Windhoek, Namibia.
Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year – C, (08th May, 2022), Good Shepherd Sunday
My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me
Time of Easter is a time of new life with abundance of faith, hope, joy, peace and love. The thrusts of this time can be summarised in two aspects; first, the Risen Lord’s encounter with the disciples and second, the disciples being sent as missionaries to proclaim the Good News of salvation to the ends of the earth. On this fourth Sunday of Easter, which is also called the ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ the Liturgy of the Word, that is the readings of the Mass, are presenting the theme of encounter and mission.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (13:14.43-52) posits a question to the reader/listener; ‘To which group do you belong, to the group of the believers or to the group of rebellious? The Apostles were belonging to the group of believers and it was testified by the expression that ‘the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 13:52). The context of this expression is noteworthy, they were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit amidst rejection, refusal and even persecution, because what guided them was their faith in the Risen Lord and their conviction of being sent by the Lord.
The whole Christian experience of God is concisely contained in today’s Gospel passage from John chapter 10, verses 27 to 30. It presents the covenant-like relationship between the Risen Christ and the believer, who belong to the Church, through the imagery of the relationship between the shepherd and the flock. The relationship between the shepherd and sheep is qualified with ‘the shepherd knowing his sheep’, ‘the sheep hearing his voice’ and ‘they following him’. Jesus the Good Shepherd knows his flock, they listen to Him and follow Him, and as a consequence He gives them eternal life, that is the participation in the divine life, qualified with eternity.
‘Knowing is loving’ and “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). When Jesus says that he knows His sheep, He means that He loves them and gives His life for them, that is, He gives them Eternal Life. The is the greatest gift that Jesus promises to those who hear His voice and follow Him is their participation in the Divine Life/Eternal Life – the communion of the Son with the Father, the same relationship of love in the Holy Spirit. The law that governs the relationship between Christ and the believer is reciprocity, a covenantal relationship of mutuality. “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). Listening is the fundamental attitude of believers. They welcome the word of Jesus, internalize it, keep it in their hearts. In the words of Martin Luther, “the ears are the true organs of the Christian”. For a believer, it is essential to take care of the quality of listening, that is, be vigilant and pay loving attention not only to words but first of all to the One who speaks (Jesus). By doing so, one learns to recognize, without fail, among the thousand voices and the many messages that reaches him/her, which are in tune with the divine voice and which are not.
In following the Risen Lord, the disciple’s hearing/listening becomes action. What is heard with the ear is put into action by following and obeying. At this point Jesus makes two more affirmations concerning the future of his relationship with the disciples: his sheep ‘will not be lost forever’ and ‘no one will snatch them from his hand’, that is He takes care of them by defending and protecting them, by which they will enjoy maximum security.
Jesus knowing his sheep and they hearing His voice and following Him is ultimately in the plan of the Father, because ‘they belong to the Father’. Then the dynamics of the relationship between Jesus and God the Father is revealed clearly “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). The sheep/believer listening to Jesus and following Him, means placing oneself in the hands of the Father, because Jesus and the Father act with the same power, and are driven by the same love, in favour of the sheep/believer. This ‘synergy’, that is the unity in acting, according to which the Son works inseparably from the Father and vice versa, presupposes their unity in being. There is no better assurance and security that the believers can enjoy, than being enveloped in the Love (Holy Spirit) of the Father and the Son. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans affirms it from his own experience as follows: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:35-39).
St. John presents, in the words of Jesus the vocation of every believer to enter into communion with the Triune God. It is made clear in the priestly prayer of Jesus: “… that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us” (Jn 17:21). The way through which we enter into this unity is by listening to the voice of Jesus and following him. Every Christian who lives united with Jesus too can say: “I and the Father are one”!
The second reading from the Book of Revelation (7:9.14b-17) makes us contemplate the heavenly Church of ‘great multitude’ of every race and nationality, passing through great tribulations, now enjoys the fullness of life and offers worship to God and the ‘Lamb’ (who was slain and risen) in the presence of God. The final outcome of this relationship of a believer with the Trinity is Eternal Life, which is toral salvation, to be fulfilled in the future. The relationship of Jesus with those who believe in Him thus reaches supreme perfection: “The Lamb who is in the middle of the throne will be their shepherd” (Rev 7:17a). The reversal of the role, lamb becoming the shepherd is an apocalyptic expression, which renders the image of the ‘immolated lamb’. In reality, Jesus had repeatedly stated that “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (cf. Jn 10:11-18). This is how the reversal of the role, sheep becoming the shepherd, Jesus acquiring the right to be head of the flock should be understood.
This Good Shepherd Sunday 2022 is also the 59th ‘World Day of Prayer for Vocations’. We are called to direct our insistent and fervent prayer to the “Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’ (Mt 9:38), in particular, prayer ‘for vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life and missionary service’. The missionary mandate of our Lord, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth is ever more relevant and urgent today. Jesus needs people through whom he can continue to carry out His service as a shepherd who sanctifies, teaches, and leads his flock (bishops, priests and deacons). He needs people who, with their existence totally consecrated to Him, announce the future happiness that awaits us (religious/consecrated men and women). Everyone, in any state of life, has his/her specific call to be a ‘pastor’ in the Church, that is, to serve God and his people wholeheartedly and committedly.