Good Shepherd Sunday

4th Sunday of Easter

First reading: Acts 13:14,43–52

Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia. On the sabbath they entered the synagogue and took their seats. Many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God.

On the following sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said. Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.”

The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region. The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

Second reading: Rev. 7:9,14b–17

I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.

Then one of the elders said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

“For this reason they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Gospel: Jn. 10:27–30

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

In other words Fr. Dionisio M. Miranda, SVD (Divine Word Seminary, Tagaytay City)

Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation, proceeds from the insight that the most serious challenge to the Gospel in the modern world is that of culture. For the city-born, rural life represents a generally unfamiliar world. This is not to say that we can never grasp the existential messages of Jesus’ parables as rooted in rural Palestine; resources abound to help us educate ourselves about that world. The point is that we need to search for fresh analogues to the Biblical images the better to approximate the original impact of its stories. For example, the image of the Good Shepherd may be restricted to superficial readings, or obscured in its core messages, or not fully appreciated, simply because certain features, such as its uniquely sensory allusions, have not been unpacked.

My parents found it cheaper to buy identical school uniforms for their five sons, which we could freely interchange. On the other hand, sorting out laundry could become contentious. Over time, however, we discovered that each son “imprinted” a peculiar scent (which modern science would explain as the effect of our individual biomes), enabling us to identify which shirt belonged to which sibling. On another plane, this helps us understand Pope Francis’ urging that shepherds take on the “smell of their sheep,” something achievable only with close association and sustained engagement.

Because our generation usually revered Mary as “the Blessed Virgin Mother,” it has always struck me as significant that younger generations invoke her readily as “Mama Mary.” Similarly, our generation has usually addressed Jesus as “Lord” or “Master” in the tradition of the apostles and his contemporaries. In contrast younger people casually refer to Jesus as “my Friend,” oblivious to the fact that it was Jesus who explicitly took the initiative of calling his apostles “friends,” a relationship they would never have dared to claim on their own. Not without basis, I reflected, recalling the times we played “following the leader” echoing the lead child’s words and mimicking his gestures. Except that discipleship is not a game; so much more is implied in “hearing the voice of the Master”and “following him to verdant pastures.” 

Which leads to reflect further that somewhere between the highly deferential “Lord” and the audacious “Friend,” a more culturally resonant image might be that of the older sibling. For most of us who come from larger families and even for the single child, the relationship to Jesus as an older brother might qualify as a justifiable addition to the various titles developed in Christology, such as that of the Good Shepherd. After all, in many cultures and especially in our own, Kuya is the elder brother who protects and nurtures his younger siblings and therefore deserves respect and obedience, who can be expected to seek their best interest and who can in that sense command spontaneous trust and confidence as well. Kuya is one with whom one does not mind living with almost skin to skin, our scents rubbing off each other. Kuya is the one who knows and fondly cares for his baby brothers and sisters. Kuya is the one to whom we can turn to more readily for forgiveness and understanding than our often distant and fearsome fathers. How intimately do we respond to the leadership and guidance of Jesus who is not only “Kapatid” but “Kuya?” For in the end, no other than Kuya Jesus can best mirror for us the strong and tender love of the Father.

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