Fourth Sunday of Easter
In the biblical times, the analogy of the sheep and shepherd was a meaningful way of describing God’s relationship with people. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, cared about his flock, went in search of the one stray sheep, and even gave up his life for his flock. In this case, the analogy works. However, this analogy has limitations when we apply it to the relationship between those in authority and those over whom authority is exercised. The problem is that sheep are rather naïve, unassuming, and unintelligent creatures. They cannot think for themselves, they easily go astray, they are totally dependent upon others, and they easily give into a herd mentality. But people are not like sheep. Nor can they be treated as sheep. People need to be treated as people. When people are treated as sheep, the analogy of the sheep and shepherd becomes very awkward.
Here are my three points for today:
- I Give Them Eternal Life. The passages about the shepherd and the sheep have taken on a totally new meaning in our times. Bishops are called chief shepherds. Priests are called pastors. Especially, as the Church reels from the abuse scandal, we realize that unless leaders in the Church embody Jesus, the Good Shepherd, this analogy can go terribly wrong. In fact, now we know what it looks like when instead of giving life, shepherds abuse their flock and instead of protecting the victims, let the evil continue, and shield the evil doers. Just last week, Pope Francis issued a new Apostolic Letter, titled, Vos Esis Lux Mundi orYou Are the Light of the World,” that lays down new and stringent rules for the protection of children in the Church around the globe. Now, bishops too will be held accountable in the same way an any other person. On the one hand, the fact that such rules are needed are itself tragic. On the other hand, we also know that those to whose care children are entrusted, often fail. Some shepherds are not good shepherds. Some of these shepherds have been bishops and priests, others are teachers, coaches, and sometimes even parents, and relatives. Today, if you find yourself in place of authority at work, at home, in church, or in social or political groups, pray for the heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Please, let us evaluate our relationship with the people entrusted to our care. We must remember that those under our care, especially, women and children, are not sheep. They are people. Our task is to give life, not take it!
- To Hear, To Know, To Follow. While the shepherds have their task cut out, today, Jesus also talks about the flock. They too have their roles and responsibilities, especially, when it comes to our relationship with God, the eternal shepherd. There are three verbs that describe Jesus' relationship with his flock: hear, know, follow. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Hearing leads to knowing and knowing leads to following. Discipleship is a relationship. We are called to hear Jesus. We are called to know Jesus. We are called to follow Jesus. I hope we are doing so!
- Alone In A Crowd. Today, questions are raised about our ability to hear, to know, and to follow. The widespread, rampant, and incessant use of hand-held devices is having an unprecedented impact on our ability to hear, to know, and to follow. Gadgets have changed the way to we think. Whether we like it or not, personalized hand-held devices have become an extension of our bodies and it is here to stay. They have changed the way we interact with the world and the people in it. Here is a scenario. I was driving on Woodman on my way to St. Helen parish. On this beautiful spring day, I saw a young mother and father walking their baby in a pram along the side walk. I always find family walks to be a beautiful gesture of domestic harmony. In this case, there was only one problem. Both the mother and the father were on their hand-held devices. The mother with one hand pushed the pram, while with the other was navigating hand-held device. The father’s both hands were on his device. Here were three people walking together, yet in their own individual world, separated by gadgets. The baby was alone even though there were two other people with the baby. If God was speaking to us through each other would we hear? If we were to know God in each other, would we know? If we were to follow God through others, would we see?
Even though we are God’s flock, God treats us like people. Even though we are flock, God loves us like God’s own children. Even though we are flock, the Good Shepherd died for us and gave us eternal life. Every Eucharist is an encounter with Jesus, our shepherd. Let us hear him. Let us know him. Let us follow him.
Fr. Satish Joseph