“The sheep that belong to Me listen to My voice; I know them and they follow Me” (John 10: 27)
On the Fourth Sunday of Easter every year the Gospel Reading is usually taken from the Gospel of John Chapter Ten. What links this Chapter of John’s Gospel, where Jesus gives a discourse on His identity as The Good Shepherd, to this particular Sunday is that this Sunday is traditionally nicknamed “The Good Shepherd Sunday” or “Vocations Sunday” because of the peculiar focus of the Church on Vocations to Priesthood, Religious Life and Family Life. The Church has always conceived “Vocation” to be a “Call” or “Calling”, as the root of the word conveys. Each of these vocation is a call or calling in and by itself. To each of them, God is the One Who calls us not by any merit of ours, but by grace to serve His needs in His Church and in our world. These vocation are necessary and of equal importance for the growth of faith and spread of the Gospel “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). The family is the garden where the seeds of priestly and religious vocation are planted and nourished. As Pope Paul VI puts it, “The family is the first school and the first Church.” Every vocation is therefore, so interconnected and interwoven that one should not be considered more valuable than the other. Today, the Church prays for and calls on her children to imitate the undaunted spirit of Paul and Barnabas in the First Reading (Acts 13: 14, 43-52) to seek more creative ways to propagate the Gospel in our world in spite of the obvious persecution, indifference, discrimination, and intolerance towards Christians and religion as a whole. To paraphrase the words of Pope Francis in this year’s Message on Vocation Sunday: every vocation is a summons to respond to the call of the Good Shepherd, nets in hand, to follow on the path He has marked out for us, for our own happiness and for the good of those around us.
The Gospel is a very short one but it demonstrates Jesus’ invitation to us and His trust in the Father, which makes Him declare His oneness with God (further reading reveals the anger of the Jewish people against this claim by Jesus). It is relevant for us to note the similarity in the behaviour of the Jews towards Jesus in the Gospel and towards the apostles in the First Reading. In the Old Testament we read of many instances where the Jews revolted against Moses and against God, their “hardness of heart” to the messages of the prophets and their extreme violence against the messengers and the Son of God. They never repented of these “stiff-neck” attitudes after hundreds of years. Are we different from them? How do we respond then to the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls us today?
“The sheep that belong to Me listen to My voice; I know them and they follow Me”: Jesus had already identified Himself as the “Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life for His sheep (John 10: 11); Who knows His own sheep, and Who is also known by His sheep (John 10:14). It is clear that there is already a relationship between the Shepherd and His sheep. The emphasis here therefore, is in the sheep maintaining that relationship by “listening” and “following” the voice of the Shepherd. Listening and following are what we are called to do in response to the Good Shepherd, Who calls us by name (John 10: 3). But listening is not a very easy activity, not so much because of the chaotic pandemonium that our world has become, but so much so because listening could be risky: it involves our emptying ourselves of our own opinions and paying attention to what the other has to say. This by itself is threatening because what we hear could challenge our preconceived and cherished notions; it could demand a change in our ways of thinking and/or acting; it could involve the risk of having to come face-to-face with some hard truths about ourselves; and it could demand our having to step aside from our comfort zones to embrace a new pattern of life, especially in this case, with the call of the Good Shepherd. Are we prepared to listen?
When we listen, are we ready to “follow”? To follow demands a lot of humility, letting go, abandoning the “old yeast” and embracing a completely new way of life; it involves accepting, imbibing, imitating and integrating a life pattern that may not be very familiar. The Good Shepherd is inviting us to follow in His steps, to walk in His ways, with a reward that is beyond the confines of our world: “I give them eternal life” (John 10: 28). He has equally promised us protection and given us assurance that we will never be lost. We are therefore, to know the Good Shepherd, distinguish His Voice from so many others, trust and have confidence in Him and then follow where He leads. In the words of Pope Francis in this year’s Vocations Sunday Message, I like to emphasise that Responding to the Lord’s call involves putting ourselves on the line and facing a great challenge. It means being ready to leave behind whatever would keep us tied to our little boat and prevent us from making a definitive choice.
The great Confidence: The Good Shepherd’s confidence is not in Himself, He is not boasting about His ability to protect His sheep, but His confidence is in God, His Father (God-fidence), Who gave Him the sheep and Who is greater than all other powers and forces; and therefore strong enough to secure the sheep from being stolen by anyone who would dare (John 10: 29). Where is our confidence? Who do we trust? And what do we rely on?
Oneness with the Father: Jesus publicly declares: “I and the Father are one” (John 10: 30). This is the ultimate and supreme claim which the Jews found hard to accept and they “took up stones to stone Him” (John 10 31). But the claim of Jesus was authentic, true and factual. The uniqueness of His birth and the many evidence in the Gospels and in the entire Bible cannot be controverted. It was a claim of profound relationship based on the twin pillars of love and obedience. Jesus was one with the Father because He loved God perfectly and obeyed Him completely. “My food is to do the will of the One Who sent Me” (John 4: 34); “The works I do and the words I speak are not mine but they are of the Father” (John 5: 30; 10: 37; 12: 49; 14: 10). He is the Eternal Logos that became man so that, as St. Augustine says: “Man might become God.” The full realization of our response to the Good Shepherd’s invitation is in our becoming like God, in all things; and sharing that same Godliness with others. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, let us join in prayer and ask the Lord to help us discover his plan of love for our lives, and to grant us the courage to walk in the path that, from the beginning, he has chosen for each of us.