Fourth Sunday of Easter • Year C

Kevin C. Mullins, O.S.A.
St. Augustine Friary
Chicago, Illinois

Acts 13:14, 43-52
Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5
Rev 7:9, 14b-17
Jn 10:27-30

The major concern and the central question behind Chapter 10 in the gospel of John is “Who is Jesus?” In our brief gospel today we hear the people asking Jesus: “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus did not give them a direct answer to their request, and until this point in time, he had revealed himself as the Messiah only to the Samaritan woman at the well.

Of course, Jesus had given the people many answers – in the form of his words and his works. But even having heard him and even having seen his works, they still did not yet believe. We know that simply because, if they had believed, their response to Jesus and their lives would have been different.

For John, the idea of knowing is a favorite theme throughout his gospel. And in today’s discourse about the Shepherd, focusing on relationship, to truly know Jesus is to believe that Jesus offers us a personal, intimate communion with him – analogous to the relationship between Jesus and his Father.

We can think of sheep from a few different perspectives, and that may very much color our reading of this gospel today. Some will be quick to point out that sheep are somewhat dumb animals who will follow anyone or anything as long as they get food and pasture.

We have all too many examples of events which might serve to support this perspective – those who will do whatever everyone else is doing, even if it is wrong, even if it is harmful to themselves or to others. In many different ways in our daily lives, I suspect that all of us participate to a greater or lesser degree in that kind of sometimes selfish, unthinking behavior. Unfortunately, it may coalesce into behavior which is clearly wrong and unacceptable. It is oftentimes simply a matter of having listened to the wrong voice, internally or externally, and having followed that voice – even if we would never have chosen to do so under “normal, rational” circumstances.

But that is just the point of today’s story and today’s image: Sheep do follow one voice, for if they don’t follow their shepherd they won’t eat. Their safety and security are in the shepherd’s hands. He knows the flock and what the flock needs – there is a truly mutual relationship.

Using that imagery, Jesus speaks of the mutual relationship between him and his followers as one based in care and love. As such, this caring and loving is a manifestation and a revelation of God – in God’s love for us.

As the good shepherd, Jesus goes beyond being a hired hand who only works for pay. Jesus cares for, protects, and defends his sheep because he truly loves them and, even more importantly, because they are a gift from the Father – entrusted to Jesus’ care and safekeeping.

We are not sheep, however, and so all three of today’s readings clearly state or hint at the potential difficulties of following Jesus the Shepherd. For to do so is not a guarantee against trials or tribulation, nor is it to say that God demands suffering of us. Rather, it is to say that God is with us, even in the midst of our trials and that we will endure them!

We have seen and we have heard of the Good Shepherd’s care and love for us. The question is “Do we believe ?” For if we truly believe, wouldn’t our lives be different in our response to what Jesus calls us to be and to do?

Wouldn’t we be a little less hasty to accuse and condemn others and, instead, offer forgiveness and seek healing? Wouldn’t we be a little less complacent with the ills that trouble us personally and collectively and, instead, actively involve ourselves in addressing and seeking to correct those ills? Wouldn’t we be a little less inclined toward selfishness and greediness, and instead seek to care and love one another as Jesus has called each of us to do?

Yes, there are dangers out there in that mean, cruel world of ours; yes, times are tough. Trusting in Jesus and his care for us does not mean being naive. It does mean, however, that we can trust in something beyond the limits of our human capacity and so move beyond the limits of our human nature.

We are all called to examine our hearts, to listen to the voice of our God and our Good Shepherd – in the many different ways that it comes to us – and to be the voice of the Good shepherd in who we are, in what we do, in how we love and care for one another.

Let us, like Paul and Barnabas, speak bravely the word of Christ – even in the face of persecution and danger in our lives. Mindful of all the turmoil in our lives, let us also reflect on the beauty of those who by their words and actions have shown a compassionate and loving face, who have sought to care for and feed the flock Christ has entrusted to us.

Let us especially remember that we are not sheep destined for slaughter. Rather, we are a flock bound for glory!

The promise of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is that we shall not be lost. Let us celebrate our journey, even as we recognize the dangers along the way. Nourished and empowered by His grace, mercy, and love let us follow the lead of Jesus who keeps us safe, secure, and on the right path home to the eternal joy we have been promised.