“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
Last Sunday, we heard Jesus saying to Peter: “Feed My Sheep, Tend My Sheep, Feed My lambs.” Jesus forgave Peter for his three-fold denial and restored him as Shepherd (Leader) of the Church. Jesus made it clear to Peter that his primary duty is to feed His sheep. The one word which summarizes our Liturgy today is “Call”. As Peter and the disciples were called by Jesus to be shepherds, Jesus calls his sheep who hear his voice and follow Him. There are many lessons for us today:
1. Not Everyone is a Sheep of Christ
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus did not say “all those who come to gather around me are my sheep.” Instead, He says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.” These three qualities distinguish the sheep of Christ; First, the sheep must hear the voice of Christ. How often do you read the Bible and meditate on it? Secondly, when Christ says “I know them” it means no one can pretend to be his sheep; you are either with Christ or with another shepherd. Thirdly, Jesus says: “they follow me,” which means, they behave like me. The sheep of Christ incarnate Christ in the world.
2. As Sheep of Christ, We Cannot Escape Hardship
The call to live as children of God is not an easy one. It is a call for the bold and courageous. The book of Sirach teaches: “My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation. Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of calamity.” (Sirach 2:1-2). Meanwhile, Jesus himself warns: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
The story of Paul and Barnabas in our first reading today teaches us that this call is loaded with challenges, tough times, and persecution. And more painfully, much of this persecution comes from people who are supposed to be close to God. The Jewish religious leaders upon seeing the multitudes of those becoming Christians were filled with jealousy and they went as far as inciting devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city against Paul and Barnabas. In the end, they were driven out of the city but this did not dampen their spirits.
3. As a Sheep of Christ, Ensure Your Robes are Washed Clean
In our second reading, St. John sees a vision of heaven, and behold it was a great multitude consisting of persons from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues. This means that the only language we shall speak in heaven is the language of love.
St. John reveals: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation…” That is to say, those who did not give up despite the persecution and trials they face. Jesus says in today’s Gospel passage, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28).
Furthermore, St. John says: “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” that is, those who have not given themselves over to a sinful life.
4. As Sheep, let us pray for our Shepherds
If there is anything we owe our shepherds, it is prayer. This is because, despite being humans like us, they are entrusted with the task that only angels can do. When the priest is doing very well, he is hardly appreciated but when his weaknesses become obvious, he becomes the talk of the town. Before I entered the seminary, I thought priests were immune from temptation, that having gone to the seminary, they become semi-deities but I later realized these were childhood fantasies. Although the priesthood carries with it several helps to the attainment of all virtues, it takes the grace of God for a priest to be a good shepherd.
As we pray for our shepherds, let us also pray that God may send more labourers into the harvest. In other words, let us endeavour to actively support and encourage more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. If your child tells you that he or she wants to become a priest or sister, please do not discourage him or her. It may sound like a joke but if God has put such a desire in their hearts, God will hold you responsible for not allowing them to answer this call.
The existence of bad shepherds should never be an excuse for discouraging the little ones. Rather than say, “God forbid” when your child sincerely desires to become a priest (or religious), join in the training of that child. Very often the shepherd only mirrors the society and more specifically, the family he comes from. On the other hand, it is true that the call to priesthood or religious life is literally a call to poverty but this should not make you discourage the little ones from responding to it. Trust that whatever he or she would have done for you, God will provide it in another way for you.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, help me to hear your voice and follow you diligently. Amen.
Bible Study: Acts 13:14,43-52, Ps. 100:1-3,5, Rev. 7:9,14-17, John 10:27-30)
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu