• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

4th Sunday of Easter

“The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 33(32):5-6 — “The merciful love of the Lord fills the earth; by the Word of the Lord the heavens were made, alleluia.”

First Reading: Acts 4:8-12 — “There is no salvation through anyone else.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29 — “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.”

Second Reading: 1 Jn 3:1-2 — “We shall see God as He really is.”

Alleluia: Jn 10:14 — Alleluia, alleluia. “I am the Good Shepherd, says the Lord; I know My sheep and Mine know Me.” Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel: Jn 10:11-18 — “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.”

Communion Antiphon: “The Good Shepherd has risen, Who laid down His life for His sheep and willingly died for His flock, alleluia.”

Rev. Tony Campolo, American sociologist, Baptist pastor, author, public speaker, and former spiritual advisor to President Bill Clinton, loved to tell the story of a census taker who went to the home of a rather poor family in the mountains of West Virginia to gather information. He asked the mother how many dependents she had. She began, “Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey. There’s Johnny, and Harvey, and our dog, Willie.” The census taker interrupted her and said: “No, ma’am, that’s not necessary. I only need the humans.” “Ah,” she said. “Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey, Johnny, and Harvey, and . . .” Once again, the census taker interrupted her. Slightly exasperated, he said, “No, ma’am, you don’t seem to understand. I don’t need their names. I just need the numbers.” To which the woman replied, “But I don’t know them by numbers. I only know them by name.” Like the mother in today’s story, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows His sheep by name.

Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday because in each liturgical cycle the Gospel for the 4th Sunday of Easter is always taken from John chapter 10, where Jesus refers to Himself as the “Good Shepherd. Today is also known in the Church as World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We pray for an increase in vocations to the Priesthood, the Permanent Diaconate, and Religious Life, in the Church, and especially here in our Diocese.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, both God and leaders of the people are called shepherds. The Book of Exodus several times calls Yahweh a shepherd. God called Moses from shepherding his father-in-law’s flock to be a leader of the people of Israel. The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh’s care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd. The Prophet Jeremiah warns, “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock to be destroyed and scattered.” Also, there’s the psalmist’s famous picture of God as the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.”

Introducing Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus makes three claims in today’s Gospel. 1) His sheep recognize His voice. 2) He then emphasizes His self-sacrificing life: “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for His sheep.” 3) He deeply desires that many other sheep follow Him. “There are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well.” There should be “only one flock and one shepherd.”

The reign of God, the heart of the Gospel message, means that the whole world will be united together with its God.

And believe it or not, Good Shepherd life is possible for us today. We can all become good shepherds, not only parish priests and pastors as the word “shepherd” connotes. Everyone entrusted with the care of others is a shepherd, including parents, teachers, medical personnel, church and government officials. We become good shepherds by loving those entrusted to us, praying for them, spending our time and talents for their welfare, and guarding them from physical and spiritual dangers. Parents must be especially attentive to their duties as shepherds by becoming role models for their children by leading exemplary lives.

All this is intimately linked with the second theme of this Sunday. It is Vocations Sunday. Today, we pray that the Church may be blessed with the young people needed to be leaders in spreading the Gospel message as priests and religious. And yes, it’s important to pray for more young men who believe they are being called to serve the Church to do so, especially here in the Diocese. However, for too long we have given a much too narrow meaning to the word vocation as simply being a call to the priesthood or religious life when, in fact, every one of us has a vocation, and it is probably what we are doing right now. In addition, we need regularly to ask ourselves: “Is God calling me to greater service in my Church and community?”

If we want to imitate the Good Shepherd, it is not enough to agree with what He said. We have to do what He did. In other words, it is not enough to talk the talk. We have to walk the walk. If we want to imitate the Good Shepherd, we have to embrace even the most despicable people. We can read about love, but that is not the same as being in love. For instance, a person living on the equator can read about snow and even see pictures of it. But that is not the same as feeling the crunch of snow on a crisp winter day. In the same way, knowing about Christ and being in relationship with Him are on two different levels. One is in the head, the other in the heart. The Good Shepherd calls to all outside the flock. In Jesus’ time, it was the Gentiles who were on the outside. Today, those outside the flock are those who don’t know Christ. And let me ask you this ... do we exclude those Jesus would invite?

The Second Reading today says, “We are His children now” (1 John 3:2). We are God’s children by reason of our Baptism. In Baptism, we are remade into the image of the risen Christ, with full rights of inheritance as children of the King of kings. We are God’s children by our relationship with the only begotten Son of the Father, Jesus Christ, who calls us His brothers and sisters. As a child imitates the parent, we are called to be imitators of God, growing from holiness ... and from holiness into His very image (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are all called to be Good Shepherds … leading others to do the same.

At each and every Liturgy ... at each and every Liturgy of the Eucharist, all of us are invited into the most intimate relationship with Christ we can imagine. Our union with Him when we receive Holy Communion is beyond comprehension. Christ comes to us in His entirety under the appearance of bread and wine. While these elements are assimilated into our body, Christ’s spirit enters into a most intimate relationship with our spirit. It is in the Blessed Sacrament that all other attempts to explain our closeness with Christ pale by comparison.

"Come, Lord Jesus. Fill the hearts of Your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and we shall be recreated. And You shall renew the face of the earth. Amen."

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