Fourth Sunday of Easter: 25 April 2021
|(The Good Shepherd, fresco, 3rd or 4th century, catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, Italy.)|
This week has been quite tough for us. Our province buried two Jesuits in a gap of three days. One returned to the Lord due to Covid and the other young Jesuit due to Cancer. On the one hand, as India is experiencing an unprecedented surge in Covid infections, Bangalore city's health infrastructure is unable to cope up with the situation. People are running from one hospital to another to find beds and oxygen. On the other hand, the political leaders are busy hurling at each other such mean accusations and low talk in the election rallies telling lies one after the other. Moreover, they are conducting election campaigns flouting rules and regulations which they themselves have set and thus increasing the Covid infections.
We are a country where our little achievements or failures are glorified to such an extent, efficiency and efficacy are not the standards that we value. We are a nation where we don't learn from history or past mistakes. Unfortunately, this is applied not just to politics, economics, scientific spectrum but also to our ecclesial or religious structures. We cannot be numb to the reality that we are facing today when we read the scriptures especially the liturgical readings that we have on this Sunday on the Good Shepherd and Salvation. Paul Tillich, the well-known German theologian writes that we cannot be stopped from asking ultimate questions. In other words, they are questions about our life, our existence, like where do we come from and where do we go? What is the finality of our being here on earth, etc? These are very important questions that must shake us up.
1. Shepherding to reach Salvation
The Christian principles teach us that the ultimate goal of our life here on earth is finding our salvation. The end for which we are created, in the words of St Ignatius of Loyola is "to praise, reverence, and serve God, and by doing this, to save our souls" (Sp. Ex 23). Therefore every activity of ours should have an end or finality. The finality is to attain eternal communion with God. The beautiful narration that we have in John's gospel on Good Shepherd after the heart of God must encourage us to believe that Jesus is our true shepherd. He came to take us back to God. He showed us a way to the Father. He is the eternity and the end. In him, we find our true freedom and happiness. His way of going about is that of the Father in heaven. There is nothing that can stop us from reaching that God of eternity as long as we keep our faith in Him.
Jesus during his brief earthly life asked and tried to answer those ultimate questions: the existential questions. Perhaps the rich imagery of the Good Shepherd that we find in today's gospel reading from St John, Chapter 10, must comfort us. The image of the Good Shepherd encourages us to trust and following the path of Jesus will lead us to the eternal sheepfold of heaven. Ultimately, we might not be able to answer the question about our life unless and until we place our Creator first in our lives. Jesus says "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice" (Jn10:16). In other words, Jesus is inviting us to look at the degree of our commitment and responsibility, the depth of relationship, the time and care, and even love, that is given.
2. Christian love is a pointer to Salvation
One of the Easter themes along with peace is love. If Risen Jesus showed himself to his disciples and his close friends, it is because of his love towards them. Without love, Christianity is not possible. The foundation of our religion is love. Therefore, Jesus' whole mission on earth is built upon the foundation of love. The Good Shepherd is the one who loves his sheep. He says "A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). In the words of Pope Francis, shepherded knows the smell of his sheep. This is possible when the shepherd loves them.
The goal of our life is to live with God forever. It is the God who loves, and gave us life. When we respond to God with total love and dedication, then God's life flow into us without limit. John the Gospel writer says in his letter (I Jn 3:1): "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God." He further says: “Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7–8) If God is love, then the goal of our life is to love and be in love. A line from the closing song of the musical Les Misérables says it best: “to love another person is to see the face of God.” Unlike a hired shepherd who doesn’t love his sheep that much, the Good Shepherd shows us the way through the trials and comforts us in our earthly Journey
3. You have salvation when you include the excluded
In our scrambled world, we need to remain firm and steadfast in our faith in the Lord. Oftentimes, we may not find the right answers to our existential questions. Many a time those answers that we have found may not be the right ones, our intellect might dupe us. Many false prophets, hired shepherds might lead us to those places where our Lord does not want us to go. Our physical body, our earthly existence have the meaning as long as we have been the good shepherds in our families, societies, parishes, dioceses, etc. Vietnamese Venerable Cardinal Francis-Xavier Nguyen van Thuan who sat in the jail for 13 long years in solitary confinement wrote this line: "Christians are a light in the darkness, the salt where life no longer has taste, and hope in the midst of a humanity, which has lost hope." When we read his life story it is evident that he was a true shepherd of his flock even though he was away from his people.
In a world of selfishness, selflessness is an act of courage and faith. Jesus as a saviour not only came for the lost people of Israel but also for those who were excluded, even sheep who are not of his flock. This selflessness must be the mark of our following of Christ. As Christians of different denominations, groups, we are asked to be united heart and soul even if our way of worshipping is different. We must listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd calling all flocks together.
Following Jesus demands that we take care of the weak, vulnerable and marginalised in our world so that they are accepted and valued for themselves. The words of Jesus should prick us: “I lay down my life for my sheep” (Jn 10:15). Like Jesus, our love and acceptance are to be given freely and non-judgmentally. Our ear is always to be tuned to the voice of the Good Shepherd who leads us to new places and people and invites us to welcome all with open arms as he did. Easter is a time for us to reflect upon the whole Easter event and where we might find him in unexpected ways or places. With hope and confidence, we must find Jesus in our ordinary lives. Only then Salvation is possible.
Questions for Reflections:
1. How do you see the image of Good Shepherd in your life? How do you react to this image? How do you feel about it? What do you think Jesus is saying about himself, about us, about you?
2. What does the image of the good shepherd and the hired hand say about your commitment, the depth of your relationships, the time and care and love that you give?
3. What do you want to say now to the one who laid down his life for every one of us, for you?
4. Who is Jesus for you? Is Jesus the Cornerstone of your faith? Your Life? Where do you find Him?
Loving Lord, Good Shepherd, keep me always faithful to our commitment to love one another, especially those who are weak or excluded, so that through me they may experience the love and tenderness you feel for all. I ask you to preserve and keep me, this day also, from all sin and evil, that in all my thoughts, words, and deeds I may serve and please you. Make me perfect in every thought and act through His grace, that my life might be pleasing in His sight and that I might share the perfect peace that is only possible through Him, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
24th April 2021