Saturday 10 May 2014

Fourth Sunday of Easter - May 11, 2014 - Is the Lord your shepherd?

To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 2:14a;36:41; 1 Pt 2:20b-25; Jn 10:1-10

It was Good Shepherd Sunday and a parish priest was speaking to the children in the Sunday catechism class. He told that as the parish priest he was like a shepherd and the members of his congregation were the sheep. He then asked them: “What does the shepherd do for the sheep?” A little boy in the front row raised his hands and answered, “He fleeces them.”

It is true that quite a few ‘shepherds’ go about fleecing, milking and feeding on the sheep. But when the Bible speaks of the leaders of God’s people as shepherds, it envisions leaders who feed, protect and feel with the people as a good shepherd does for his flock. It must be noted here that in the text from John, Jesus is not only the Good Shepherd but also the Sheep Gate. This means that he not only leads the way to abundant life, life in all its fullness, which he does as the Good Shepherd, but is the way to that life himself as the Sheep Gate.

There are some, however, who focus only on one of the images and so critique the analogy of the shepherd and sheep. Sheep may be loveable creatures, but they seem to lack independent spirit. The only thing they seem to do is relentlessly seek grass. They are relatively defenceless against wolves and other wild animals. They easily lose their way. It is precisely because they are dumb and defenceless that they need a shepherd. So some do not like to be termed as sheep and do not feel the need for a shepherd. They believe that they can do perfectly well on their own.

The truth is that we like to think that we are in control, that no one can hurt us if we do not let them, and that no problem is so intractable that we cannot solve it. But what keeps happening in our world should shake us out of that conviction. We are not secure even in our own little worlds. We remain vulnerable as much to our own sinfulness and the evils of contemporary life as to far-off terrorists and revolutionaries. Many of us are searching for love and compassion. Yet the world is torn apart by hatred, rage and violence. In spite of its thin veneer of order and discipline, our condition remains as messy and chaotic as that of a flock of sheep without a shepherd. We are as vulnerable now as we will ever be.

On the other hand, there is something lovely about the imagery of sheep that trust without fail and a shepherd who cares without ceasing. There is a bond which words can’t fully express. In today’s t4ext, despite any fear about surrendering too much of our independence to shepherd-like divinities, we can appreciate some of the profound meanings of Jesus as gate to the sheepfold and a good shepherd. Can this rural, pastoral imagery speak to us in our urban, cosmopolitan, and industrial setting? Because of our modern lifestyle we may long precisely for the kind of relationship between God and us that such imagery reveals.

The first reading of today from the Acts of the Apostles makes precisely this appeal through the words of Peter to those on the other side of the gate., “the whole House of Israel:. The one who was crucified has been made Lord and Christ and Shepherd. The way to come to the right side is through repentance which necessarily implies giving up the old vision and seeing with new eyes. It will mean giving up the myth of self sufficiency and realizing that we need to be helped. It will mean acknowledging that we cannot travel long distances on our own, but need a higher power to guide and nourish us. The invitation is a universal invitation and no one will be excluded.

The invitation is repeated by Peter in the second reading of today in which he exhorts us to live our lives in imitation of the Good Shepherd who remains the only example that we will ever need.

His life was a life committed to his Father even in the midst of his suffering even to the point of death on a cross. Since Christ has proved to be the Good Shepherd who cares for us and will continue to lead our way, we can dare to face life with confidence and courage even in the midst of our own trials, tribulations and crosses.

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