(R1: ACTS 13: 14, 43- 52; PS. 100: 1- 3, 5; R2: REVELATION 7: 9, 14b- 17; GOSPEL: JOHN 10: 27- 30) FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
The fourth Sunday of Easter is Vocations Sunday. On this day, we pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and we pray for the sanctity of our priests and religious. Today, as Christians, we also reflect on our call to holiness; our vocation to know, to love and to serve God in one another. This Sunday is also observed as Good Shepherd Sunday. On the fourth Sunday of Easter every year, the Gospel reading is taken from the 10th Chapter of the Gospel according to John, the chapter that deals with the discourse on Jesus the Good Shepherd. For Year C, we are reading from the 27th verse to the 30th verse.
John begins by giving us both the date and the place of this discourse. The date was the Festival commemorating the rededication of the second Temple in Jerusalem. The festival is also known as the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah). It takes place on the 25th of the ninth month of the Jewish calendar called Chislew, which corresponds with our November and December. The venue of this discourse was Solomon’s Porch. People usually walked there to pray and meditate, and Rabbis strolled there as they talked to their students and expounded the doctrines of the faith. It was there that Jesus was walking, and the Jews came to him to ask, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? Tell us plainly, are you or are you not God’s promised Anointed One, the Messiah?” They could see some extraordinary things about him, yet they wondered why he had not overthrown the foreign powers (the Romans), they were also wondering why some of the religious leaders and their followers would not listen to Jesus if he were the Messiah. Some of those who asked genuinely wanted to know. However, there were those who wanted Jesus to make a statement that they might twist against him to charge him for blasphemy in their local courts or to charge him for rebellion with which the Roman governor would deal.
Jesus then gave an answer that implied that he is the Messiah but not the kind of Messiah that some of them were expecting. He presented himself as the Good Shepherd. Because many were still not ready to believe in him; Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me…No one can take them out of my hand.” Hence, those who refuse to follow him are not part of his sheep. Those outside the fold may reject the good news, but it will undoubtedly get to the sheep, and they will listen and act accordingly. Nobody can stop the message!
After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, his apostles and disciples continued to spread the message, and those they preached to continue to divide themselves into the sheep and the goats. In the first reading, Paul and Barnabas were preaching the Gospel at Pisidian Antioch. They gained many converts, but some of the Jews turned against them. To them, Paul and Barnabas said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” This statement must not be misunderstood as a support for antisemitism; this does not mean that all the Jews are evil. The fact that some of them rejected the message must not blindfold us against the fact that many welcomed the news. Just as it was for the Jews, so it is for all places; some welcome the word and others reject it. The rejection of the message by some of the Jews planted the seed for the spread of the message to the Gentiles. And that is one of the characteristics of the gospel – it tends to thrive more where there is persecution. The voice of the Messiah is like a seed. When it is hated and buried, it germinates and bears more fruits, as such no one can frustrate God’s plan, nobody can stop the message!
As we reflect on the Good Shepherd, we are also reminded of our roles as shepherds. As preachers, teachers, parents, older siblings, and leaders in various capacities, we are challenged to be sure we do not distort the voice of the Good Shepherd when we transmit the message. Sometimes, we can become frustrated when our children, parishioners or students pay deaf ears to the truth of the message that we pass across. We are reminded that we are only channels of the voice of the Good Shepherd. It has been settled long ago – those who are his sheep will surely listen even if not at the same time. Our responsibility as shepherds is to make sure we do not give up on our job of passing on the message even if some seem not to listen now. Those that the message is meant for will undoubtedly get it; nobody can stop the message! We have to be good listeners to be good speakers; we have to be good sheep to be good shepherds as preachers, teachers, parents, older siblings or leaders in various capacities. We can only pass on what we have received from the Good Shepherd. And as Scripture says, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.”