GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY
1st Reading: Acts 13:14. 43-52; Psalm: 100. R. v. 3c; 2nd Reading: Rev 7:9. 14b-17; Gospel: Jn 10:27-30
FOLLOWING THE VOICE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
An American tourist was travelling in the Mid East and came upon three shepherds whose flocks had intermingled while drinking water from a brook. After an exchange of greetings, one of the shepherds turned toward the sheep and called out, “Manah. Manah. Manah.” Which means “follow me” in Arabic. Immediately his sheep separated themselves from the rest and followed him. Then the second shepherd called out, “Manah. Manah.” And his sheep left the common flock to follow him. The American traveller then said to the third shepherd, “I would like to try that. Let me put on your cloak and turban and see if I can get the rest of the sheep to follow me.” The shepherd smiled and allowed him to put on his cloak. The traveller then called out, “Manah. Manah.” None of the sheep responded to the stranger’s voice nor moved an inch. The stranger then asked “Will the sheep ever follow someone other than you?” “Oh yes,” the shepherd replied, “sometimes a sheep gets sick, and then it will follow anyone.”
While Jesus was taking a walk in the temple during the feast of the Dedication, the Jews gathered around him and asked “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (Jn 10:24). Prior to this encounter, Jesus had taught and done numerous good works enough to prove his Messiahship but these men shut their ears and turned a blind eye to these. Jesus then said to them “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:27). This statement of Jesus was welcomed with disdain. These set of Jews couldn’t imagine themselves as learned as they are to be under Jesus’ control. Also, Jesus’ use of a sheep and a shepherd relationship to describe his connection with his followers was for them very derogatory and annoying. These men saw Jesus as not only disrespectful but also as one who was asking too much. And when we begin to feel that someone is asking too much from us, defiance would easily be our reaction.
Defiance or disobedience is often the upshot of pride. It is an action that surfaces when we don’t give way to humble obedience. Pride, which is one of the seven deadly sins, is a sickness to humble listening. And just like a sick sheep, pride controls us to follow the voices of our own feelings and desires.
One clear difference between the Pharisees and the disciples of Jesus was that while the disciples of Jesus followed him daily and closely to understand him and the mysteries of the kingdom, the Pharisees on the other hand followed Jesus from a distance, not to learn from him but to fault him in what he might say. There is no how we can understand and bond with someone from a distance. Searching for faults rather than seeking to know someone open-mindedly even makes the intimate knowledge of that person all the more difficult to achieve. This distance followership and lack of open mindedness due to pride was the reason these set of Jews fell out of the fold of Jesus the Good Shepherd. For it is impossible to cooperate with someone we don’t understand.
The magical response of a flock of sheep to the call of their shepherd is not something that develops in a day or from a distance. It is their close nurturing from that stage of a lamb to a sheep and their daily pasturing by their shepherds that gradually forms that strong bond of communication between them. This is what Jesus requires from us; to stay close to him through daily Masses and reading of the Scriptures while he nurtures us gradually. And not to stay far off with some rational justifications as to why we did so. If we don’t have this close relationship with Jesus, we would not recognise his voice when he calls.
Jesus the Good Shepherd speaks to us daily. He calls us as a whole. But in that single call, we hear him individually and receive different messages to act upon. Little Joe was taking a walk with his father on a hot afternoon. They passed by a poor beggar who was limping barefooted on the hot asphalt. When he got home, he sneaked out of the house with the shoe his father bought for him on his birthday. He traced the beggar and found him under a tree. He offered him his small sized shoe and sat with him for a while. Joe’s father suddenly appeared with some new clothes and was surprised to see his little boy seated beside the beggar. Little Joe couldn’t believe that while he thought of a shoe for this beggar, his father thought of some clothes for the same beggar too.
Today, Joe runs a charity organisation inspired by that single childhood experience. Speaking of that experience he said “I was five at that time. The difference in our foot sizes didn’t really occur to me. All that matters to me at that point was to respond to that little voice within me saying “Show some kindness.” My birthday shoe was what I could offer at that point. But what surprised me most was that, in that one beggar, God spoke to me and my father at the same time but differently.”
Jesus the Good Shepherd calls us to some tasks every day through the things that happen around us. In a portrait, he could be telling us about love. In a fight, he could be calling us to be peacemakers. In an accident, he may be telling us to be good drivers and obey traffic rules. In our stubborn child, he could be teaching us patience and tolerance. In a street beggar, perhaps he is calling us to be generous just like little Joe in our story. And even as we are seated here in this church, Jesus could be calling us to renovate the altar, to change that noisy sound system, to repaint the church, to pay the municipality bills, or even to renovate the priest’s apartment. God could even be calling us to be a priest or religious as we celebrate Vocation’s Sunday today. In God’s single call, he communicates to us differently. What is God saying to you today?
Do we know why the voice of the Good Shepherd sometimes falls on deaf ears? This is when we feel that God is asking too much from us. And when we begin to have this feeling, we will see ourselves tightening up and disobedience becomes the end. When we hear that voice calling us to charity and good works, it is the voice of the Good Shepherd. Jesus expects a humble obedience to this voice. We shouldn’t allow prideful disobedience snatch this voice away from us. It is in response to this voice that we have numerous priests and religious today; which is why today being Good Shepherd Sunday is a day we pray for increase in vocation to priesthood and religious life. We are all called to participate in this call to service in different ways. God could be calling us to serve not in the celibate way as do priests and religious, but with our talents and resources. How attentive are we to his call?
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we pray for increase in vocation to priesthood and religious life, and for the grace to be attentive and docile to your voice as you call us daily to serve one another in charity. Amen