Homily for May 15, IV Sunday of Easter, cycle A
The imagery of a shepherd and his sheep permeate today’s readings, to the point where this Mass is also referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. This kind of imagery is very appealing and picturesque, but I only really started to understand it when I had some first-hand experience with sheep.
Although I’d seen sheep on my next-door-neighbor’s farm while I was growing up, I never really got near to a flock until I was a seminarian. One day, I was walking with some other seminarians in the countryside not far from Rome. We turned up a street that we thought might be a shortcut to where we were going, but it turned out to be a long driveway to a farm. By the time we realized that, we were almost at the farmhouse, and a flock of sheep closed in behind us.
At first, it was fun; the little lambs mistook us for the shepherds and came up to us and frolicked around us, waiting for us to feed them. But then we tried to leave… and the flock started to go ahead of us down the driveway. We stopped moving, and I slipped discreetly through to the front of the sheep, but when the next guy started to follow, the sheep started to move with us again. In the end, I had to jump up and down and shout to scare them back up the hill.
That experience left me with a few impressions. First of all, being compared to sheep is not entirely a complement. They are trusting, but they can easily be confused and at least briefly led astray. Secondly, shepherds have to be very vigilant and get to know their flock well to manage and protect them well. So, when Christ calls us His flock, He is acknowledging that we are weak and sometimes are deceived and misled, especially if we follow someone who is not really the shepherd. And when He says that He is the Good Shepherd, it means that He really is attentive to our needs and our wanderings. We need to learn to recognize His voice and follow Him wherever He leads us. He also compares Himself to the gate through which we must pass to be safe and find pasture. His voice is the Truth, and He is the Way that brings us to Life in Him.
St Peter reflects on these truths in the second reading today. He points out that humanity had, in fact, “gone astray like sheep”, but through the redemption that Jesus won for us, we have “now returned to the shepherd and guardian of [our] souls.”
St Peter is also the main character of the first reading. He follows in the footsteps of Jesus and acts as a good shepherd, pointing out to the people that they they had been led astray in rejecting Christ. Peter, through his preaching and works, brought a large number of people to the flock of the faithful.
Today, it would be good for us to ask ourselves how well we know the voice of the Good Shepherd. Who are the leaders we listen to and follow most often? How much effort are we making to hear and follow Jesus’ voice? Leaders in politics, in the arts, and in the economy are constantly trying to lead us in certain directions, using many means of communication. We need to be sure that we are also listening to the Good Shepherd by spending time in prayer and choosing well the things we read, watch, and hear.
With God’s grace, may we all hear and follow Christ, the Good Shepherd, the only leader who can lead us to the green pastures of eternal life.