Be the wise sheep of Jesus

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:14A, 36-41

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed: "Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, "What are we to do, my brothers?" Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call." He testified with many other arguments, and was exhorting them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day.

1 Peter 2:20B-25

Beloved: If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

John 10:1-10

Jesus said: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber. But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers." Although Jesus used this figure of speech, the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them. So Jesus said again, "Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."

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.

Posted: May 3, 2020

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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