HOMILY OF 4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR A
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday or Vocation Sunday. This day is set aside to reflect on the deep love and care that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, has for each one of us, His beloved sheep, and also to pray for vocations into the priesthood or religious life. That is, those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of shepherding the souls entrusted to their care.
JESUS CHRIST, THE GOOD SHEPHERD
In today’s gospel, Jesus declares Himself to be the Good Shepherd who protects, guides, and cares for His flock and also lays down His life for His sheep. He says, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). This beautiful imagery of the Good Shepherd reminds us of the tender care that Jesus Christ has for each of us. He is always willing to lay down His life for us, to protect us from harm, and to guide us on our journey through life. This shows how much Jesus Christ loves us and is willing to sacrifice Himself for our sake.
However, as we reflect on the gospel reading, we also need to recognize the dangers that threaten to lead us astray from the path that Jesus Christ has laid out for us. Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it in abundance” (John 10:9–10). Of course, Jesus Christ is the door of the sheepfold, and the sheepfold is the Kingdom of God. Through His passion, death, and resurrection, He has reopened the door to that Kingdom after it had been shut through the sin of Adam and Eve. Hence, setting us free from the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13–14).
BEWARE OF FALSE SHEPHERDS
Obviously, there are many false shepherds in the world today who seek to lead us down the wrong path. We need to watch out for individuals or ideologies that may lead us astray from the truth and goodness of God. These false shepherds may come as angels of light in many forms, such as worldly temptations or false ideologies that promise us happiness and fulfillment but lead only to emptiness and despair (2 Corinthians 11:14–15). Many of them claim to be pastors, prayer warriors, prophets, and evangelists with different prayer ministries where they do a lot of abracadabra, brainwashing, and deceiving people with fake miracles. It is important to discern and recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd amidst the noise and distractions of the world so that we may follow the path that leads to life and eternal joy. For Christ says, “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord,” “Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Nevertheless, as we navigate through the trials and tribulations of life, it is important that we stay vigilant and listen to the voice of our true Shepherd, who leads us to green pastures and still waters (Psalm 23:2). We must be attuned to His voice and His guidance so that we do not fall prey to the dangers that seek to lead us astray. In John 10:27, Jesus Christ states categorically, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. Hence, we must train ourselves so as to develop the ability to recognize His voice and obey Him.
As St. Peter says in the second reading, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). So, in order to be led in the proper direction, we must fervently turn to Jesus Christ and have the determination to carry out just His will and His will alone. Besides, our relationship with the Good Shepherd should be based on trust and obedience.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE THE VOICE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD AMIDST THE NOISE AND DISTRACTIONS OF THE WORLD
Discerning the voice of the Good Shepherd is essential for our spiritual growth. But the question is, how can we recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd amidst the noise and distractions of the world? Below are some ways we can achieve that:
1. Spend Time in Prayer and Meditation: Jesus Christ often withdrew to a quiet place to pray so as to listen to the Father’s voice (Mark 1:35). By spending time in prayer and meditation, we can develop a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and learn how to recognize His voice.
2. Study the Scriptures: The Bible is the word of God, and it is through the Scriptures that we can come to know Jesus Christ and his teachings. By studying the scriptures regularly, we can learn to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd (John 6:63).
3. Seek Spiritual Guidance from Wise and Experienced Christians: We can seek guidance from priests, and other Christians who have a deep understanding of the Scriptures and can help us recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd (Isaiah 30:20-21)
4. Stay Alert and Attentive: In our contemporary society, which is full of noise and distractions, it is very easy to miss the voice of the Good Shepherd. We need to stay alert and attentive, ready to hear His voice even in the midst of the chaos of everyday life (1 Peter 5:8-10).
5. Follow the Promptings of the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is the one who leads and guides us into all truth. By listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we can discern the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow him wherever he leads us (John 16:13).
Another way to cultivate a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ is through participation in the Sacraments, especially Reconciliation (confession) and the Holy Eucharist. Also, God has entrusted us with the responsibility of shepherding His sheep (souls) in different capacities. So, to become shepherds of others, we must be ready to endure persecution, insults, betrayal, pain, disappointments, etc. for the sake of others.
As we continue on our earthly journey, let us keep our gaze set on Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for us unconditionally (Hebrews 12:2). Once we grow closer to Him, we become more sensitive to His voice and guidance, and we are able to discern His will in our lives more clearly than that of the false shepherds in the world today. As a matter of fact, part of His will for us is to become shepherds of others through our love, care, and sacrifices for them. Therefore, let us be open and responsive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, listen carefully to His voice, and follow wherever He leads us, trusting that He will lead us safely to our eternal home. As the scripture says, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15).
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the good shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. Help us to recognize your voice amidst the noise and distractions of the world, and guide us safely through the trials and tribulations of life. Help those whom you have called to be co-shepherds to always take proper care of the souls entrusted to their care. May we always follow you with trust and obedience, and may we one day be united with you forever in your heavenly kingdom. Amen.
Peace of Christ be with you…
Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.