HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR A.
THEME: Challenges of Being Shepherd and Sheep in a Society Prone to Waywardness
BY: Fr. Luke Ijezie
Resp Psalms 23:1-6
Today the Universal Church celebrates Good Shepherd Sunday. It is also marked as World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Vocation, broadly understood, means God’s call to every creature to serve him in diverse stations of life. Pope Francis reminds us that as Christians we see our selves as missionaries called to bear witness to Christ wherever we find ourselves. One thing is that we live in a very difficult world that makes it more and more difficult to witness to Christ and to live coherently as servants of divine mysteries.
The readings of today, particularly the Gospel, have continued to keep me thinking in ways I never thought before about the roles of shepherd and sheep in our kind of wayward society.
1. Jesus says in the Gospel from John 10:1-10 that he is the only gateway to the sheep and every other one that lays claim to the sheep is a stranger and a thief. It means that whoever claims to be shepherd of God’s people but is not linked to Jesus or does not gather with him is a charlatan. But we see such independent shepherds everywhere. Whom do they represent? Does it mean that either there are many brands of sheep belonging to diverse shepherds or that there are diverse shepherds laying claim to the same sheep. How do we resolve the puzzle?
The answer is there in the text. Jesus states that there is only one Shepherd and and one flock. Then he says that all others who claim to be shepherds are brigands, and the sheep know them not. If all the sheep belong to Jesus alone, then it means that those myriads of sheep that are not presently in his sheepyard are all lost sheep. They must be found. They must be brought home. This implies an added responsibility on the servants of Jesus. Their duty is to cooperate with Jesus to bring every lost sheep home with no exception. Any sheep that is not brought to Jesus gets lost.
2. In the first reading, the people ask Peter and his fellow Apostles: “What shall we do, brothers?” Peter urges them to save themselves from “this corrupt generation” by repenting and getting attached to Jesus. We find a similar summons in the second reading from 1Pet 2:20-25, where the Apostle urges Christians to be always conscious of their call and new identity in Christ, “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (2:25).
3. The real essence of missionary work is gathering together the lost sheep of Christ who are the scattered children of God. The work embraces all humanity. Missionary work is a mandate that must be carried out with great sense of responsibility and duty and, above all, love. Many of Christ’s sheep are either lost or are in the wrong hands, and these wrong hands are hands of thieves and false shepherds. They come to steal and slaughter and destroy. Jesus himself comes that they may have life and have it in abundance. This promise of abundant life, which is total wellbeing is the good news we preach to all irrespective of tribe, language, nationality or religion. Jesus lays claim to all humanity.
There comes my perplexity again: Are we still striving to win all humanity for Christ? Has the wayward and violent society intimidated us to abandon the mission and join in other concerns? Who will gather the innumerable lost sheep if we chicken out? These are not simple questions because we respect all religions and ideologies. But we are reminded that we are not alone, and that the mission belongs to God and He alone gives the strength and success. All we are asked to do is to cooperate and work with Him, to be witnesses with our lives and our words whereverwe are.
The Good Shepherd Sunday reminds us that whether as parents, guardians, baptised Christians or religious leaders, we are all called to the service of gathering the lost sheep.
May God, the Good Shepherd of the sheep, continue to lead us to places of comfort and security! May His Presence continue to guide us so that even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil; For He is with us; His rod and His staff, they comfort us! (Cf. Psalm 23:4).
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