Liturgical Year C

The Fourth Sunday of Easter; The Law of the Flock

Everything has its day: International Workers' Day (admit it, you have already taken some days off after it), Woman's Day, Day of the Deaf and Blind, Earth Day, etc. Almost each day in a year is dedicated to someone or something. The Church has them as well: the feast day of Our lady of Lourdes is celebrated as the world day of the sick, the feast day of St. Joseph the Worker is dedicated to labour and today is Good Shepherd Sunday when we pray for those who have responded to God`s call to priesthood and religious life. The month of May is entirely dedicated to Mary; Mother's Day is the second Sunday in May.

Anyway, all these days mark something that is endangered, not enough talked about or something that needs to be thought of at least once a year. We are probably not aware enough of special days we mark in a liturgical year calendar.

What all these days have to do with today's reading from the Gospel? On the fourth Easter Sunday we read from the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to John all throughout three liturgical years. This year we read the end of that text. You can also read the whole chapter for better understanding of the context.  Although we read it in springtime, Jesus said these words during an important Jewish feast day – Hanukkah - the festival of lights and feast of rededication of the Holy Temple, which is a winter holiday; its date and atmosphere is similar to our Christmas. In today's reading we find these well known words: “I am the good shepherd”, “I am the gate for the sheep”, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (see Jn 10, 9-11). Jesus is telling this parable of the shepherd and the sheep which is very familiar to his listeners and which was also used in the Old Testament. However, today we are not so familiar with it. It is like a fairy tale for us; it isn't so existentially important for us, especially for all those young people who have never seen a real shepherd with his flock of sheep assisted by his sheepdog. Still, there is something extremely important for us. When people are in the crowd, they behave exactly according to the law of the flock like sheep do. On the other hand, many of us won’t accept the role of a sheep who is unaware of the path it’s taking or, in other words, we don’t want to be weak and indecisive people, used and chased by everyone.

The traditional image of the shepherd from the parable told by Jesus is applied to himself, the Good Shepherd who goes on ahead of his sheep, and they follow him. Of course, this image has been applied to all the shepherds of the Church who are supposed to be like the Good Shepherd. Jesus himself says in today's reading: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10,27). Taking into consideration the image of God from the Old Testament and everything the New Testament says about him, including the way shepherds look after their sheep – we can say that there is also this image of God who follows his people: the Good Shepherd goes after his flock, he follows it. Such an image is much closer to us, the Church followed by the risen Christ, who walks behind us, lifts us up and directs us, but he never violates our freedom.

This image is much closer to the Gospel message and the non-violent image of God as oppose to “blind leaders“ who like to be called “Father“ and “Master“ and long for any form of authority and power. Good Shepherd Sunday is a great challenge for all the Christians to understand that we are spiritual companions to each other, we are those who – by respecting our companions’ freedom – choose to go behind them rather than ahead of them, we help them when they fall or wander off, without an illusion that we will be able to force someone into faith or to follow God.

To be a part of his flock means to be in God's hands as in Psalm 100. We are the God's flock looked after by our Father, guarded by God's love and guided by the Son, the Good Shepherd.

Bruxelles, 29 April 2007

19.04.2013.Author: p. Antun Volenik, SJ
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