Fourth Sunday of Easter, 25 April, 2021
(John 10: 11-18; Acts 4: 8-12; 1 John 3: 1-2; Ps 117: 1, 8-9, 21-23)
The personal love of God for each of us is uppermost in today’s Readings: from the epistle’s, “think of the love that the Father has lavished on us,” through the Psalm’s refrain, “for his love has no end,” to the Good Shepherd’s, “I know my own and my own know me.” Jesus knowing his own by name is very much part of the Easter story, as it is only when he calls her by name that Mary of Magdala realises that the “Gardener” is really her “Rabbouni”. We, too, can allow Jesus to call us by name in our following of him in our day-today lives.
There were two kinds of sheepfolds in Israel long ago; one was in the outskirts of a town or village where shepherds would put their sheep for safekeeping at night; in the morning they would call out their own sheep by name. The story is told that one shepherd went off with the sheep of another and when their owner woke up and realised what had happened, he quickly called out the names of his own sheep and they came hurrying back to him: “I know my own and they know me…”
The other kind of sheepfold was out in the countryside and had one single door; the shepherd would sleep across the entrance to protect the sheep, especially from wolves, putting his life on the line: “I lay down my life for my sheep.” Leaders in Israel had long been called shepherds, ever since the time of David, the shepherd boy turned King. They could be castigated by prophets for not caring for their flock, as for example Ezekiel: “Therefore, you shepherds… because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd… I will rescue my sheep from their mouths so that they may not be food for them” (Ezek 34:1-10). In today’s gospel the reference to the “hired man” probably has the Jerusalem Temple priesthood in sight. The first reading also has their actions in mind. Jesus’s cleansing of the Temple can be seen precisely as the castigation of the High priestly families for their abandonment of the people and the grabbing of their lands; they were truly “hired men” instead of shepherds. We can think today of leaders in many countries, for example the military in Myanmar, who oppress those in their care.
“Shepherd” is perhaps not a concept that speaks to city people much today; a young girl who had got into trouble with the Law translated the psalm, “The Lord’s my Shepherd” as “The Lord is my Probation Officer.” She certainly had got the essence of what the Good Shepherd means, as the Probation Officer was the only one who showed her any kindness in her life. On the other hand, perhaps in this time of ecological crisis and Pandemic, we need to find again our relationship to nature images; as Pope Francis so graphically put it when he was talking to pastors: “Be shepherds with the smell of the sheep on you.”
Today, Good Shepherd Sunday, has been traditionally called, “Vocations Sunday.” As we pray for vocations to all ministries within the Church, let us not be like the disciples in last Sunday’s Gospel, who were “unnerved” behind locked doors but, rather, allow the Good Shepherd to call us by name and lead us out of the sheepfold to a new future.