Homily April 30th, 2023 

Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday –

Year A: Acts 2:14a,36-41; Ps 23:1-6; 1 Pt 2:20b-25; Jn 10:1-10

            Dear brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the fourth Sunday of Easter. This Sunday is also called Good Shepherd Sunday, because the Gospel of this Sunday, no matter what year, always speak of Christ as the Good Shepherd. It is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, asking God to give the grace of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. These special vocations to serve God entirely, with one’s whole heart and soul, are a continuation of the work of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and hence we recall both Christ’s words about Himself as the Good Shepherd, and pray that God might raise up vocations to follow Him in that role.

In today’s Gospel Christ tells us a great deal about His love for us, the Father’s love for us, and what that means for our lives. It’s interesting that Christ’s listeners “did not realize what He was trying to tell them.” Presumably they understood the literal meaning of His words, since the Bible contains some 100 references to shepherds and nearly four hundred to flocks, and the entire setting would’ve been familiar to them. What they failed to see, and what Christ had to explain to them, was how those words applied to our Savior.

Perhaps our difficulty today is the opposite: we know who Christ is, but many of the details of the Good Shepherd are lost on us because we’re not familiar with sheep and shepherding. If we look at Christ’s words in the context that He spoke them, however, a clearer image of Christ’s love and compassion for us begins to emerge. We can look at two points in particular: first, the shepherd imagery that Christ uses, with the voice of the shepherd, the care He takes, and how He watches over His sheep, and, second, the life He came to bring.

First, speaking of the Good shepherd, Jesus says, “the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.”[1] In order to understand this, we need to consider a little bit what life was like in Biblical Palestine; it was common that several flocks would gather at one watering stop or spend the night together in one sheepfold. All the sheep would be mixed together, a confused lot of many different sheep from multiple flocks. In order to separate them, when it was time for a flock to leave, the shepherds would use a peculiar whistle or call. It’s nothing intelligible, like a word or phrase, but rather a peculiar sound or cry that would be recognized by the sheep. At that sound, the sheep of that shepherd’s flock simply head over to him, and follow the sound of their shepherd. This is interesting, because sheep are notoriously dumb animals, but they can distinguish their shepherd’s voice, and so much so that an unfamiliar voice sends the flock running in all directions, but the familiar one brings order and keeps the flock in peace. We can ask ourselves, do we allow ourselves to hear Christ’s voice in our daily lives? Or do we let ourselves be upset by the noise of the world?

Secondly, sheep are notoriously dumb animals, and a truly good shepherd would care for their every need. If left alone, sheep will eat even the roots of the grass, destroying the land, and drink polluted water. A good shepherd takes all of this into account, and must constantly be on the watch and on the move to ensure the best for his flock. We can ask ourselves, do we allow Christ to move us where He wants us to go? Do we allow Him to direct our lives since He wants the best for us?

Thirdly, as we read a little later on, Christ is “the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.” Sheep were valuable possessions in the Old Testament, and the shepherd would defend them against thieves and wild animals. Even at night, the shepherd was on guard: he would sleep at the gate of the sheepfold, or, if there was no fold, he would spend the night awake. This is because the sheep were valuable for his family and their well-being. Christ, however, sees us, His sheep, as valuable in ourselves. Do we believe that’s the care God has for us, that His eyes are ever-watchful over us?

Lastly, at the end of the Gospel, Jesus has a very interesting line that we should constantly meditate on: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” “The Greek phrase used for having it more abundantly means to have a superabundance of a thing. To be a follower of Jesus, to know who He is and what He means, is to have a superabundance of life.”[2]

Jesus Christ did not come to earth, was not born, did not live, did not suffer, did not die, just so we could be more or less ok. He didn’t come so we could “get by” or “survive” life; He came so that we could have an abundant life. “The glory of God is man fully alive,” said Saint Irenaeus, and it’s that fullness of life that Christ came to give us. The life of grace and our vocations are the first steps in that fullness of life. We cannot hold back from giving God everything; He wants to give us abundant life, and He will provide everything that we need in order to have it. All we have to do is surrender ourselves and follow Him, trusting in His love and care for us.

Today, in particular, we ask Christ the Good Shepherd that He inspire young people to follow Him through a vocation to the consecrated life, that they have the courage to surrender themselves to the Good Shepherd and to lay down their lives for others, just as Christ did. For all of us, we ask for the grace, through the intercession of Mary, the Divine Shepherdess,[3] to surrender ourselves more fully to Christ, to be docile to the call of our shepherd who loves us and calls us by name.

[1] Cf. A Guide Through the Old Testament, Celia Brewer Marshall, Celia B. Sinclair, 121.

[2] Barclay’s commentary on this passage.

[3] Divina Pastora, a devotion in Venezuela.



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