Scripture Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year A)
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Scripture contains many stories that use the analogy of sheep and shepherds to teach us about our relationship with God, and the qualities of good leadership. Yet few of us today have much direct experience with either sheep or sheep farming. In many cases, our only knowledge of sheep herding comes from “You Tube” videos or the movie “Babe” and in these examples a shepherd uses hand or voice signals to direct sheepdogs to herd skittish sheep from behind in the direction indicated by the farmer.
In the time of Jesus, and in many areas of the Middle East today, several shepherds may graze their sheep in common pastures. At the end of each day, each shepherd calls to separate his own sheep from the many, and they confidently follow him to smaller enclosures of stone or briar walls for the night. Each shepherd is familiar with their own sheep, and the sheep have been raised to recognize, trust and follow the unique call of their own master. After leading his sheep in to the protective enclosure, the shepherd will place himself in the narrow opening all night, to keep any hapless sheep from wandering away and to ward off any thief or predator who wishes to steal or harm the vulnerable sheep.
Once we understand this style of sheep herding its easier to recognize ourselves as the sheep in Jesus’ parables and Jesus as both the shepherd and the gate; the one who leads us to “rich pastures,” guides us to shelter and who laid down his won life to save us from the destructiveness of sin. As in Jesus’ time, we are surrounded by many voices that care little about our well being, that make false promises of a better life or may even wish us harm. So how are we to discern the voice of Jesus amongst the many other voices competing for our attention?
Saint Peter, in the second reading, tells us that we need to be like apprentices learning a craft, by modeling and practicing the actions and attitudes of our Master, Jesus Christ, until they become so familiar they become habit. Only then will it be easier to discern the voice of Jesus amid the noise of the world. Even when our choice to follow Jesus is met with confrontation or leads to suffering, Peter tells us we are to emulate Christ in truthfulness, refrain from retaliation or threats and to place our fears, doubts and anger into God’s hands. Like a good shepherd, Christ will comfort us and lead us to pastures of abundant life.
Mary Joshi, St. Augustine’s Parish