Sunday, April 25, 2010

We Are His People, The Sheep Of His Flock.

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Reading I
Acts 13:14, 43-52
Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga
and reached Antioch in Pisidia.
On the sabbath they entered the synagogue
and took their seats.
Many Jews and worshipers
who were converts to Judaism
followed Paul and Barnabas,
who spoke to them and urged them
to remain faithful to the grace of God.

On the following sabbath
almost the whole city gathered
to hear the word of the Lord.
When the Jews saw the crowds,
they were filled with jealousy
and with violent abuse
contradicted what Paul said.
Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly
and 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.
For so the Lord has commanded us,
I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
that you may be an instrument of salvation
to the ends of the earth.”

The Gentiles were delighted
when they heard this
and glorified the word of the Lord.
All who were destined for eternal life
came to believe,
and the word of the Lord continued to spread
through the whole region.
The Jews, however,
incited the women of prominence
who were worshipers
and the leading men of the city,
stirred up a persecution
against Paul and Barnabas,
and expelled them from their territory.
So they shook the dust from their feet
in protest against them,
and went to Iconium.
The disciples were filled
with joy and the Holy Spirit.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 100:1-2, 3, 5
We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
The LORD is good:
his kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness, to all generations.
We are his people, the sheep of his flock.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
Revelation 7:9, 14b-17
I, John, had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne
and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes
and holding palm branches in their hands.

Then one of the elders said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived
the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white
in the blood of the Lamb.

“For this reason
they stand before God’s throne
and worship him day and night in his temple.
The one who sits on the throne
will shelter them.
They will not hunger or thirst anymore,
nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne
will shepherd them and lead them
to springs of life-giving water,
and God will wipe away
every tear from their eyes.”
John 10:27-30
Jesus said:
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me,
is greater than all,
and no one can take them
out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”
Today, the Fourth Sunday of the Easter Season, is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. The gospel of the day, by no coincidence, is the parable told by Jesus of the shepherd and the sheep.
The image of the shepherd and the sheep is an ancient one in the Scriptures. But, like all scriptural images, it is not to be taken too literally. Anyone who has observed the behavior of sheep up close for any length of time realizes that they can be quite silly – not to say stupid. There are no leaders, only followers. If one panics – even for no real reason – they all panic. They are timid, fearful, and lack initiative. Maybe they’re not that different from us after all!

In the Scriptures, the focus is not on the sheep but on the shepherd. In the Hebrew Scripture, there are beautiful images of the shepherd and his sheep, especially in Ezekiel and in the Psalms. The image is of someone who gives caring and compassionate leadership to the flock. The Middle Eastern shepherd does not use dogs or horses to drive the sheep, as they do in western countries. The shepherd walks in front of this sheep, and they follow him freely. They hear his voice, and they continue to follow him. If one should wander off, the shepherd leaves the flock and goes off in search of the lost sheep to bring it back.

And so, today’s Gospel tells us that we have been given to Jesus by the Father. For it is in Jesus, who is the Way, that we find our way to the Father. It is Jesus, who is Truth and Life, who leads us to the source of all Truth and all Life, God himself.

The sheep recognize the voice of their own shepherd, and they follow him, rather than another. It is the custom, in the Middle East, and in other parts of the world as well, for the shepherds to graze their flocks together during the day, and as the sun goes down, at the end of the day, they gather the sheep in the middle of a meadow, and they stand in a circle at the edges of the field. They begin to call out in a singing voice, and the sheep begin to scatter, each of them coming to its own shepherd. “I know my sheep and they know me. I call to them, and they follow me.”

It is important for us, brothers and sisters, to be aware, as today’s Gospel reminds us, that we have been given by the Father to Jesus as our Good Shepherd. For it is only in and through Jesus, who is the Way, that we can find our way to the Father. Jesus is the Truth and the Life, and only He can lead us to the source of all Truth and Life, to God Himself.

It is important for us to recognize the voice of Jesus as it comes to us in our life. For the voice of Jesus can take many forms. Quite often, it is in the voices of people who come in contact with us in our daily activities. If we do not recognize Christ in the voices we hear, we are likely to get lost; in fact, some of God’s flock – perhaps many – do lose their way. They do not know where their Shepherd is – or perhaps they have wandered so far and have been lost for so long that they no longer have a shepherd.

This brings us to Good Shepherd Sunday, which is also Vocation Sunday. Today, we are asked to pray that more people will consider whether they are being called to join the ranks of priest-shepherds or to the dedicated life of religious sisters and brothers, or to a role of ministry within their own parishes.

Today, we are all being asked to pray, but perhaps we need to do even more. One part of the problem is that all of us need to realize that every Christian, indeed every person, has a vocation. None of us can say, “I don’t have a vocation”, since God has called each of us from the first moment of our existence to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, so that we might be happy with Him forever in the next. Each and every one of us has been called, and continues to be called by God to serve one another in truth and love, and to help make our world a better place for all to live. As we read in today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, “out there” there are untold numbers of people who are waiting to hear the message of Truth and Love, but cannot hear, because there are “religious” people bickering among themselves as to whose interpretation of the gospel is the authentic one.

But, as the fellow in that commercial says, “I digress”. The fact that you are committed to a way of life does not mean that you don’t have a vocation. For instance, many people choose a career and only later – almost as a afterthought – say, “I ought to do a retreat and find out what God wants me to do.” Mother Teresa originally responded to be a Sister of Loreto, but the sight of so many poor folks dying in the streets outside her convent led her to rethink what God wanted her to do with her life. She left the convent and started a new congregation devoted to the care of the destitute and the dying. I once knew a young fellow who had a talent for languages who obtained an undergraduate degree in French language and literature, and who planned to settle down in his home town and teach in the local high school. He had just completed a Master’s degree in modern languages when he made a retreat and at the end of the next term, he left the school system to enter the seminary. But that’s not your story – it’s mine. The question here is: What is God saying to ME today, as I hear these readings? And that is a question for each of us.

Each of us is first of all a Christian, a follower of Jesus’ Way. We exercise our calling – our vocation – through our work and through our daily life. Whatever our profession, we are not just a preacher, a teacher, a parent who happens to be Catholic. Beyond that, there is a need – for each of us, according to our abilities – to become more fully involved in the well-being of the society in which we live, and in the Christian community that serves the general society.

We often talk about “the Church”, which is supposed to provide priests, sisters, churches, schools, and the religious, educational and social services we all want and need. We need to be reminded that “the Church” is not something “out there”: it is you and me. It is all too easy for us to adopt a passive attitude – “pray, pay and obey”. Even attendance can be a very passive experience: We watch the priest say Mass, we endure the homily. We get there late and leave early. Is that how to live our vocation?

Vocation literally means “calling”. We need to be reminded that each of us has a definite, specific and personal call from God, based on the circumstances of our lives, and our particular gifts we can use to benefit others. As members of God’s people, some of this service will be done in cooperation with other members of the Christian community. For some, it will mean service at a higher level of commitment, through full-time service as a lay person, a religious, a priest.

Yet, the first and most essential level of awareness is to realize that I have been called – I have a vocation – and with God’s help, to identify the particular way in which I am called to live that vocation. If we all do that conscientiously, we will be going a long way toward solving the shortage of Eucharistic shepherds. Let us all join with Jesus so that, in the words of the Second Reading, we will never hunger or thirst again, nor be plagued by the sun and wind, but be led to springs of living water, where God will wipe away all the tears from our eyes.

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