Father Donald Senior, CP

May 8: Fourth Sunday of Easter

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

A shepherd for many

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

This Sunday is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel sets the tone with a selection from John Chapter 10 where Jesus presents himself as the good shepherd in contrast to the hired hands who neglect the sheep and expose them to danger. 

Jesus the shepherd knows his sheep and they are attuned to his voice. He protects them and gives them “eternal life” and “no one can take them out of [Jesus’] hand.” 

Because of Jesus’ intense love for his people, they even share in the bond of love between Jesus and his father. The Johannine Jesus will make that same astounding promise in his final discourse with his disciples. 

Jesus prays “that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.”  Jesus concludes his prayer: “I have made known to them your name and I will make it known that the love with which you have loved me may be in them and I in them.”

Responsorial Psalm 100 amplifies the same melody: “We are his people; the sheep of his flock. … Know that the Lord is God; he made us, his we are; his people, the flock he tends.”

The image of Jesus as the good shepherd has become embedded in our Christian tradition as a model for those with pastoral responsibility.

The true pastor of a parish cares for his people. The bishop is to expend his life energy in caring for the local church entrusted to him. By extension, each of us is to care for our fellow Christians, protecting them, loving them.

We are all called to be “good shepherds” and we are sadly aware of how the church has suffered from having “hired hands” who exploit and abuse the sheep and expose them to danger rather than caring for them.

But today’s readings bring another dimension to the image of the Good Shepherd — one that we need to think about in this strange time when war is raging in Europe, when outbreaks of violence in our own cities seem to be a daily occurrence, and when we struggle with the scars of racism. Both the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles and the second reading from the Book of Revelation remind us that the spirit of the Gospel extends to all peoples, “from every nation, race, people and tongue,” as Revelation proclaims.

All during this Easter season we hear about the widening mission of Paul and his associates. In today’s reading from Acts, they move west through Asia Minor proclaiming the Gospel. 

There is a pattern here. Because Paul was Jewish and was deeply in love with his heritage, when entering a new town, he and his companions would go first to the familiar terrain of the local synagogue. There they would tell the assembly of their conviction that Jesus was the promised Messiah, one whose death on the cross brought God’s saving love to the world.  

Many were moved by Paul’s message, not only Jewish members of the synagogue but also Gentiles known as “God fearers” who were enamored of the Jewish tradition but had not converted.

But others resented Paul’s intrusion and rued the fact that he seemed to be drawing the loyalty of their members. As a result, Paul and his missionary associate ran into conflict, but conflict did not deter them from their mission, and the Gospel message would spread throughout the Mediterranean world.

Paul quotes a passage from Chapter 49 of Isaiah: “I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” Paul, in fact, had quoted this same passage in his Letter to the Galatians to describe his call from God — one God intended for him “before he was knit together in his mother’s womb.”

At a time of great tension in our world, we might be tempted to close in on ourselves, to resist and reject those who are different from us. The generous and expansive spirit of the Gospel runs in a different direction. Jesus, the good shepherd, embraces everyone.  



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