BY: Fr. Jude Chijioke



Readings: Acts 13: 14.43-52; Revelation 7, 9.14-17; John 10: 27-30.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter in all the liturgical cycles presents us with the same passage from John’s Gospel on the Good Shepherd. Last Sunday was that of the fishermen and today the shepherds. Two categories of equal importance in the gospels. From one comes the title of the “fishers of men”, and from the other that of the “shepherds of souls”, given to the apostles.
Most of Judea was a rugged, stony plateau, more suited to pastoralism than agriculture. Grass was scarce and the flock had to move constantly; there were no protective walls, and this required the constant presence of the shepherd amid the flock. A portrait of a shepherd in Palestine at the time of Jesus pictures a man, alert, sleepless, his gaze peering into the distance, one exposed to elements, leaning on his stick and always attentive to the movements of the flock. From these we come to understand why the shepherd has acquired such great importance in the history of Israel that they have given this title to their kings, and Christ has taken it up as an emblem of self-sacrifice.
In the Old Testament, God himself is represented as the shepherd of his people. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps 23: 1). “For he is our God, and we are his people the sheep of his flock” (Ps 95,7). The future Messiah is also described with the image of the shepherd: “Like a shepherd he grazes the flock and gathers it with his arm; he carries the lambs on his breast and slowly leads the mother sheep” (Is 40.11). This ideal image of a shepherd finds its full realization in Christ. He is the good shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep; he takes pity on the people because he sees them “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36)

This Sunday’s gospel passage highlights some characteristics of Jesus the Good Shepherd. The first concerns the mutual understanding between the sheep and the shepherd: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.” In some countries of the world, sheep are raised mainly for meat; in Israel they were raised mainly for wool and milk. They therefore remained for years and years in the company of the shepherd who ends up knowing the character of each one and calling each by some affectionate nickname.

It is clear what Jesus means with these images. He knows his disciples (and, as God, all people), he knows each “by name” which for the bible translates: in their most intimate essence. He loves each with a personal love, each one as if he / she only exists before him. Christ can count only up to one: and that one is each of us.

Today’s Gospel passage tells us something more about the good shepherd. He gives his life to the sheep and for the sheep and no one is able to steal them from him. The nightmare of the shepherds of Israel was the wild beasts – wolves and hyenas – and the brigands. In such isolated place they were a constant threat. It was a moment when the difference emerged between a true shepherd – the one who grazes the family sheep, who has the vocation of a shepherd – and a hired worker who puts himself at the service of some shepherd only for the wages he receives, but does not love, and often even hates the sheep. Faced with danger, a mercenary flees and leaves the sheep at the mercy of a wolf or brigand; a true shepherd bravely faces danger to save the flock.

Jesus is our true shepherd who does not abandon us to danger, to evil and oppression of the enemy, to sin and death, but shares in our story, suffering and pain. As a shepherd, he understands us and directs us towards a suitable path to our destiny, orienting us in the criteria of our vocational choice. And above all he leads each of us to that universal goal of salvation destined for anyone who believes in Him.

Fr. Jude Chijioke

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