4th Sunday of Easter (c) Joh 10:27-30 – St Vincent de Paul, London
This Sunday is popularly known as “Good-Shepherd’s Sunday”. Today’s Gospel uses the image of sheep and shepherd to describe the relationship between Jesus and the community of those who believe in him, who have put their trust in him. The well-known Psalm 23 says: “YHWH, the Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” And in the Gospel, Jesus says of himself: I am the good shepherd.
It is not easy with this image. After all, we live in London of the 21st century, and I suspect many of us do rarely have the chance to watch a shepherd at work with his animals. In addition, who of us wants to be like sheep, blindly following their leader? Are we not individuals, autonomous human beings, with our own free will?
In short, we can safely say that the image is a bit out of date. Yet, when the Gospel puts the image of sheep and shepherd in front of us, it is because of the unique relationship between the shepherd and his flock, which is at the heart of this image. The shepherd knows his sheep. He is so close to them that he takes on “the odour of the sheep”, as Pope Francis said in his homily at Chrism mass this year. The shepherd lives in unity with his sheep. This allows the animals to recognise him.
Jesus uses the image of the close relationship of shepherd and sheep to justify his mission against his contemporaries who do not believe that he is really the Messiah. Just before the words of today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus saying: “I have told you, but you do not believe.” And he concludes: “You do not believe, because you are no sheep of mine.” The experience of the early Church, which is reflected in the Gospel, was that many people could not believe. They heard the voice of Jesus, but they did not recognize him as the Son of God, our saviour and redeemer. Not recognizing Jesus also means the inability to recognize the Father, since Jesus says: “The Father and I are one.” God chooses us, but the choice does not depend on God alone. We, too, must make an election. It is our free decision which shepherd we want to follow, which direction to take in our life. God makes a generous offer to us. He offers his relationship with us. It is up to us if we decline, half-heartedly accept it or if the relationship to God means so much to us, that we give ourselves to him: My happiness lies in you alone.
On Good Shepherd’s Sunday, we pray especially for religious vocations. Whether we find God in marriage and family life, in religious life or in the as a diocesan priest, the guiding principle for our choice must be: What is the best way for me to live in relationship with Christ?
Jesus knows me. He gives life to me, he protects me. Nothing can separate me from his love. I know Jesus. I can recognize his voice among all other voices. Jesus guides me, not only in the celebration of the sacraments and when I read the Bible. Even in the ordinary events of my everyday life, in my questions and in the needs I may have. We are invited to come close to him, to see God more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly. AMEN.