Homily, Fourth Sunday of Easter.

“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly”

Yahweh, the Good Shepherd: The Jewish people, for a long time had used the image of the Good Shepherd for God. The usage goes all the way back to Genesis 49:24, which says that Joseph was saved “By the power of the mighty one of Jacob, by the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel and the God of your father…” Such imagery was used by Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Zechariah, and of course by David in his Psalms. The psalmist addresses Yahweh as his Shepherd.  Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my Shepherd; nothing shall I want.” (Compare also Psalms 77:20, 79:13, 97:7).  “He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand” (Ps.95:7).  “Like a shepherd, He feeds His flock; in His arms He gathers the lambs, carrying them in His bosom, and leading the ewes with care” (Isaiah 40:11).  Ezekiel foretells what the Messiah will do as Good Shepherd.  “I myself will tend My sheep …I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.  I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (Ezekiel 34: 15-16).  In short, God is the ultimate Shepherd of the people, providing guidance, sustenance and protection (Psalm 23), and He intended their Kings and other leaders to be their shepherds as well.

The prophets pointed out the main duties of the Good Shepherd: 1) The Good Shepherd leads the sheep to the pasture, provides them with food and water and protects them.  In Palestine, the shepherd went in front and the sheep followed behind.  2) He guarded them, not allowing them to get lost in the desert or become victims of robbers and wild animals – preventive vigilance.  3) He went in search of the lost ones and healed their wounds – protective vigilance.  4) He was ready to surrender his life for his sheep – redemptive vigilance.

The first parable in today’s Gospel: The first part of today’s Gospel contrasts Jesus, the true Shepherd, with fake shepherds, thieves and robbers. Jesus gives us warning against false shepherds and false teachers in his Church. Jesus’ love and concern for each of us must be accepted with trust and serenity because he alone is our Shepherd, and no one else deserves our undivided commitment. As a true Shepherd, he leads his sheep, giving them the food and protection only Jesus, the Good Shepherd, can provide, and he protects us and leads us to true happiness.

The second parable: In this second parable Jesus compares himself to the Shepherd and to the Gate. The first title represents His ownership because Shepherd is the true owner of the sheep. The second title represents His leadership. Jesus is the Gate, the only Way. He is the One Mediator between God and mankind. All must go through Him, through His Church, in order to arrive in Heaven. By identifying Himself with the sheep-gate, Jesus gives the assurance that whoever enters the pen through Him will be safe and well cared-for.  Jesus is the living Door to His Father’s house and Father’s family, the Door into the Father’s safety and into the fullness of life. It is through Jesus, the Door that we come into the sheepfold where we are protected from the wolves of life. There is safety and security in being a Christian. There is a spiritual, emotional and psychological security and safety when we live within Jesus and his Church, within the protectiveness of Christ, Christian friends and a Christian family.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis was in Egypt last week and in one of his talks highlighted the 7 temptations that are prevalent today.

  1. The temptation to let ourselves be led, rather than to lead. The Good Shepherd has the responsibility of guiding the sheep (cf. Jn. 10:3-4), of bringing them to fresh pastures and springs of flowing water (cf. Ps 23). He cannot let himself be dragged down by disappointment and pessimism: “What can I do?” He is always full of initiative and creativity, like a spring that flows even in the midst of drought. He always shares the caress of consolation even when he is broken-hearted. He is a father when his children show him gratitude, but especially when they prove ungrateful (cf. Lk 15:11-32). Our faithfulness to the Lord must never depend on human gratitude: “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:4, 6, 18).
  2. The temptation to complain constantly. It is easy to always complain about the shortcomings others, about the state of the Church and society, about the lack of possibilities… But we are called to turn every obstacle into an opportunity, and not every difficulty into an excuse! The person who is always complaining is really someone who doesn’t want to work. It was for this reason that the Lord said to the pastors: “Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees” (Heb. 12:12; cf. Is. 35:3).
  3. The temptation to gossip and envy. It is a great danger when persons, instead of helping the little ones to grow and to rejoice in the successes of their brothers and sisters, allow themselves to be dominated by envy and to hurt others through gossip. When, instead of striving to grow, they start to destroy those who are growing; instead of following their good example, they judge them and belittle their value. Envy is a cancer that destroys the body in no time: “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mk 3:24-25). In fact, “through the devil’s envy death entered the world” (Wis 2:24). Gossip is its means and its weapon.
  4. The temptation to compare ourselves to others. Enrichment is found in the diversity and uniqueness of each one of us. Comparing ourselves with those who are better off often leads to grudges; comparing ourselves with those worse off often leads to pride and laziness. Those who are always comparing themselves with others end up paralyzed.
  5. The temptation to become like Pharaoh that is to harden our hearts and close them off to the Lord and our brothers and sisters. Here the temptation is to think that we are better than others, and to lord it over them out of pride; to presume to be served rather than to serve. It is a temptation that, from the very beginning, was present among the disciples, who – as the Gospel tells us – “on the way argued with one another who was the greatest” (Mk 9:34). The antidote to this poison is: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9:35).
  6. The temptation to individualism. This is the temptation of selfish people: along the way, they lose sight of the goal and, rather than think of others, they are unashamed to think only of themselves, or even worse, to justify themselves. The Church is the community of the faithful, the Body of Christ, where the salvation of one member is linked to the holiness of all (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Lumen Gentium, 7.) An individualist is a cause of scandal and of conflict.
  7. The temptation to keep walking without direction or destination. We need to remain always focused on what we want to achieve that is eternal life; otherwise there is a possibility that we take the broader road rather than the narrow road. They can live with a heart between God and worldliness. The more we are rooted in Christ, the more we are alive and fruitful! Only in this way can we preserve the wonder and the passion of our first encounter with God, and experience renewed excitement and gratitude in our life with God and in our mission. The quality of our consecration depends on the quality of our spiritual life.

Psalm 23 is a personal application to enjoy the comfort and security of the relationship with the Lord

The Lord is my Shepherd…THAT’S RELATIONSHIP!

I shall not want… THAT’S SUPPLY!

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…THAT’S REST!

He leads me beside still waters…THAT’S REFRESHMENT!

He restores my soul…THAT’S HEALING!
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness… THAT’S GUIDANCE!

For His name sake…THAT’S PURPOSE!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…THAT’S CHALLENGE!

I will fear no evil… THAT’S ASSURANCE!

For thou art with me…THAT’S FAITHFULNESS!

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…THAT’S SHELTER!

Thou preparest a table before mein the presence of mine enemies…THAT’S HOPE!

Thou anointest my head with oil…THAT’S CONSECRATION!

My cup runneth over… THAT’S ABUNDANCE!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…
THAT’S BLESSING!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord…THAT’S SECURITY!

Forever…THAT’S ETERNITY!