Be the wise sheep of Jesus

by May Tam
Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14A, 36-41

1 Peter 2:20B-25

John 10:1-10

Shepherds in the land of Israel, where Jesus lived and preached, hold three things dearly: water, their tents and their sheep. Allusions to shepherd and sheep abound in the Bible. There are various “shepherd texts” in the Old Testament, and numerous parables dealing with the shepherd and the flock in the New Testament (rf Nm 27:16-17, Ez 34, Gn 31:39-40, Ps 23:1-4, Mt 18:12; 25:32, Mk 14:27, Heb 13:20, Lk 15:1-7). Religious and political leaders of Israel are often compared to shepherds, and the people to the flock. When shepherds do not attend to their responsibilities, great harm befalls the sheep.

The parable of this Sunday's Gospel reading focuses first on the gate (vv 1-2) and then on the shepherd (vv 3-5) with the explanation that Jesus is the gate (vv 7-10) and also the shepherd in later verses (vv 11-18). Jesus portrays a vivid picture of the shepherd's life with his sheep. Not only does the shepherd guide, protect and look after the sheep, he is like a father to them, giving each of them a name. But like any other relationships, this intimate relation between the shepherd and his flock needs mutual understanding and cooperation.

As Jesus' followers, we are His sheep. The first thing we are told is to recognize His voice, that is, we listen to and obey His commandments as our personal response to Him. In this world, there are many voices luring us to go astray. Despite they appear attractive and promising, these voices are not from the shepherd. Like the parable of the narrow door that the road leading to perdition is wide and spacious, so do charming voices (rf Mt 7:13-14). The voice of the shepherd may not be as loud or delightful as the other voices, but it pierces the heart and the soul because it is the voice of love. The crowd heard this voice on Pentecost Sunday when Peter addressed them (first reading), “they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37).

Secondly, we have to know our name. The shepherd gives each of his sheep a name because each sheep has its own characteristic and is different from each other; but he loves every one of them. We, too, have our own individuality and our own crosses; and God loves each of us personally. As the shepherd who knows his sheep by their names, so does Jesus know of our sufferings and pains in life, because He Himself has undergone the same experiences. Thus, in the second reading Peter says, “. . . by His wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls” (1 Pt 2:24-25).

Lastly, we have to follow the shepherd. The sheep follow their master because they trust him. They do not need to know where he leads them nor what to do next; all they know is to follow the shepherd and all will be taken care of. In our lives, we sure must have times of doubts, fear and worries, but Jesus tells us that He is the shepherd, the good shepherd who is willing even to lay down his life for his sheep and the one, who will leave his flock of ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one which is lost. (rf Jn 10:11, Mt 18:12-14, Lk 15:3-7). Jesus is the model of complete trust to His Father for “when He was abused, He did not return; when He suffered, He did not threaten; but He entrusted Himself to the one who judges justly” (1 Pt 2:23).

Inasmuch as sheep are known to be harmless and defenceless, they are also reputed as mindless and stupid. So let us not be the archetype but the wise sheep of Jesus. Let us recognize the right voice, follow the true master and stay close to him.