The WORD in other words by Fr. Antonio Pernia, SVD – Divine Word Institute of Mission Studies, Tagaytay City
4th Sunday of Easter / A – Good Shepherd Sunday
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is known as the “Good Shepherd Sunday” because invariably the Gospel reading comes from Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel which presents Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
As we know, Palestine during the time of Jesus was mostly dry and barren desert. Hardly any vegetation thrived on this desert land. And so, the primary source of livelihood for the people was not agriculture, but the raising of animals, particularly sheep. And sheep was raised not so much for the meat they could provide as food when slaughtered but for the wool with which people could do business with the merchants and clothes-makers.
So, the sheep stayed longer than usual with the shepherd. And an intimate relationship usually develops between sheep and shepherd. The shepherd would give names to each sheep in much the same way that we today provide names for our pet dogs. Often the shepherd would create distinct melodies for each of these names. And so, the sheep knew the voice of the shepherd. They recognized his voice when the shepherd called them to go to pasture. The hireling or mercenary did not know the names of the sheep, nor did the sheep recognize his voice. So, the sheep would not follow the hireling or mercenary.
The other image about Jesus being the “gate” refers to the practice whereby the shepherd, once he has gathered all the sheep inside the pen at night, would sit or lie at the gate to prevent any sheep from going out, and prevent wild animals from getting in. As the gospel reading puts it: “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
The message of today’s Gospel reading is that God is our Shepherd who takes care of us through his Son, Jesus, the Good Shepherd. As our Shepherd, God’s care for us is profoundly personal and intimate. He calls each of us by name, inviting us to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, as he leads us to verdant pastures.
But have we learned to recognize the voice of God, our Shepherd? Do we hear his voice when he calls us? And do we follow him as he invites us to the pastures of abundant life? Let us pray for the grace to recognize the voice of our Shepherd – by prayer and meditation, by reading and reflecting on his word in Sacred Scripture, by encountering him in the Eucharist, by recognizing him in our assistance and solidarity with the poor and the needy. Only when we recognize the voice of the Shepherd can our Shepherd protect us and care for us.