Homily for Fourth Sunday of Easter
Our experience of shepherding in this land – I suspect for most of us it would come from television screens – with flocks of thousands of sheep, the sheep dog, the pastoralist is very different from shepherding as Jesus knew it. He experienced it as a much smaller, more intimate affair. The shepherd would have had a few sheep; he would have known each one and the sheep recognized the voice of their shepherd… There was a bond between sheep and shepherd. In several places in the Old Testament God is portrayed as the shepherd of his people, Israel. Jesus reveals himself as the shepherd who lays down his life for his flock.
And who are the sheep of Jesus? The sheep are those who recognize the voice of the Shepherd. This is not relationship based on law. In the first reading we heard the example of some people who were faithful to the law, but could not hear the voice of the Shepherd in the Good News preached by the Apostles. We need the guidance of law, but law is no substitute for the relationship with the Shepherd. Each of us, sheep, need to learn to listen to, to listen for the voice of the Shepherd in the joys, struggles, decisions of life. Pope Francis, in Gaudete et Exsultate, speaks of this central aspect of the life of faith: ‘You too need to see the entirety of your life as a mission. Try to do so by listening to God in prayer and recognizing the signs that he gives you. Always ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every decision you must make, so as to discern its place in the mission you have received. Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world. ‘
The Good Shepherd Christ calls us into relationship with him. If we trust in his call, if we seek to respond to his call, to listen to his Spirit, then with all our frailty, struggles and failures, yes, even failures we are united to the Good Shepherd by a bond which nothing can break because it is brought into being by the Father in heaven.
Jean Vanier said something that brings Good Shepherd Sunday and Mothers’ Day together for me. He said we are all called to be good shepherds leading people to the Good Shepherd.
To become a good shepherd is to come out of the shell of selfishness in order to be attentive to those for whom we are responsible so as to reveal to them their fundamental beauty and value and help them to grow and become fully alive….
It is not easy to be a good shepherd, to really listen, to accept another’s reality and conflicts. It is not easy to touch our own fears and blocks in relation to people, or to love people to life, It is a challenge to help another gradually to accept responsibility for their own life, to trust themselves, to become less and less dependent on us and more dependent on Jesus, the Good or the Wonderful Shepherd.
All of us, priests, mothers, teachers, friends, mentors are called to so accompany those give to us that they become with us more dependent on the Good Shepherd, Jesus who will lead us to springs of living water and who is lord for ever and ever.