Sunday, 25 April 2021 : Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday and Vocation Sunday, and Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this Sunday we mark the fourth Sunday in the season of Easter, and which is also known as the Good Shepherd Sunday or the Vocation Sunday. That is because on this Fourth Sunday of Easter the Gospel passage focused on the Lord as the Good Shepherd, referring Himself as that Good Shepherd Who leads the flock of the Lord, all of God’s people to the path of salvation, to gather them all into the embrace of God’s love.

Through today’s Scripture readings, we are reminded of the ever present and ever wonderful God’s love in our midst, the love which God has for each and every one of us. God has Himself become our Shepherd just as He is also our King. But through His identity as the Good Shepherd, it shows that not only He is symbolically represented as the One Who leads the way for us, but also that He cares for each one of us in a very personal way. He is not God that is distant or One Who did not know us.

On the contrary, He knows each and every one of us on a very deep and personal level, as He knows everything about us, through His omniscience. He Who created us also knows everything about us, often even things that we ourselves are perhaps not aware of. He knows us all like a true shepherd knows his sheep well, and a true and good shepherd truly knows them all and dedicates himself to all of the sheep, just as the sheep are also dedicated to the shepherd and stay by his side.

The Lord Jesus used this comparison to a shepherd for various reasons, one of which is that many Israelites at that time make their living as shepherds, herding herds of sheep or goats, or other animals. The Lord often made use of allegories and comparisons to the common trade of the people such as shepherding, fishing, farming and others, through His parables and teachings to help the people to understand better the context and the content of what He was delivering to them.

Then, what we cannot ignore is the fact that the beloved king of Israel, King David himself was a shepherd in his youth, who was recorded as having wrested with a great lion who was harming and threatening the flock that David was taking care of. David placed his life at stake in order to protect his sheep, and managed to win over the lion, saving his sheep. Thus, as the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus He would lay down His life, putting Himself between His sheep and the ‘lion’ of death.

That is in fact a revelation of what the Lord would be doing, in accepting humbly and willingly to be the Sacrifice, bearing His Cross and enduring all of the weight of our sins and the punishments due for all those sins. This is what St. Peter spoke of courageously and passionately before the assembly of the people and their elders, many of whom still refused to believe in Christ. As the Good Shepherd, He willingly received the punishments and die in our stead, that through Him and His selfless sacrifice, He could save us all from certain annihilation.

And lastly, a small detail which we may easily miss from today’s Gospel passage also showed what the Lord intended to do for us. As He spoke of the sheep of His flock, He said that there are also other sheep that are not of this fold, which refers to the Gentiles, or the non-Jewish people. When the Lord spoke this teaching of the Good Shepherd, He was speaking to His disciples and followers, which were mainly and mostly Jewish in origin.

Therefore, this shows that the Lord wants all of His children, all the people He had created to be saved, gathered and rescued from the darkness of the world. He came not only for the descendants of the people of Israel but for all mankind. And that was why after He has risen from the dead, He gave the commandment to His disciples, commissioning them all to go forth and make disciples of all the peoples of all the nations. He has sent His disciples to seek out the lost sheep from the whole world and to gather them back in the Lord’s loving embrace.

This is what St. John spoke of in our second reading passage today from his Epistle, speaking of the great love which the Lord has for each and every one of us, as the children of God. We are so beloved and truly blessed as such, to be called God’s own children. This is in line with what the Lord had told us that as our Shepherd, loving each and every one of us as His sheep, we are truly precious and beloved, and as alluded in another one of the Lord’s parables, the one on the lost sheep, so beloved is the sheep that even if one were to be lost, the shepherd would go and seek out that one lost sheep until it can be found.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore today as we celebrate this occasion of the Good Shepherd Sunday or Vocation Sunday, we are called first of all to remember the love which God, Our Good Shepherd, through His Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, has shown us, that He willingly suffer and die for us, and by His Incarnation in the flesh, He has also entered into our lives and touched us, just as the shepherds come to be physically present in the midst of his flock. He Himself has endeavoured to guide us and to be our focal point in life, that through Him, and that we may truly feel and know His presence among us.

Sheep can be owned and yet without a shepherd. In the same manner thus, the Lord could have chosen to remain distant and act through intermediaries as He had done in the time of the Old Testament. But this is not to be the case, as by being our Good Shepherd, being in our midst and truly present among us, He has restored the bond of unity that was once broken and lost by the disobedience of our ancestors. When our ancestors Adam and Eve were in the Gardens of Eden, God was in their midst and was with them. After their fall into sin, they were cast out and had to endure exile.

As I said, sheep can be owned and yet without a shepherd. The sins of mankind had led them all away from the Lord, indulging in sin and darkness of the world. They have become lost sheep that ran away from their shepherd, lost in the darkness of the world. Are they still owned by the Lord? We sinners, are we still belonging to the Lord? Of course we are, but without the Lord as our Shepherd and Guide, we are lost and we cannot find our way home, unless we seek our Shepherd and Guide, Who is the Lord Himself.

Fortunately, our Lord, the Good Shepherd is looking for us, and He tirelessly seeks us out just as the shepherd in His parable out looking for his sheep. That was why He had put so much effort, reaching out to us throughout time, and then through His Church, as mentioned earlier, how He sent out His disciples, commissioning them to reach out and make disciples of all the peoples of all the nations.

That is why today on this Sunday we are also celebrating the Vocation Sunday. The Lord has called His Apostles to continue His good works, and to be shepherds in the same mould as He is, as the Good Shepherd. They and their successors, the bishops right to the very present day, with all the priests are the shepherds of the faithful flock of the Lord, and they have been called and chosen, and also chose to respond to the call of the Lord, to lead the people of God faithfully and guide them to the Good Shepherd.

That is why this Sunday we ought to pray for all of our priests, who are our spiritual fathers and shepherds, all the bishops and the Pope, as well as those whom God had called into the religious life and priesthood. They have all given themselves to the Lord to be the shepherds following the example of the one true Good Shepherd. They have a lot of work to do and a lot of challenges to be overcome in their ministry and journey as shepherds of the Lord’s faithful, and they need our support and prayers.

We also pray for the many seminarians currently in seminary formation, during the various stages of their seminary life, all those whom God had called and had responded with the genuine desire to follow Him and to be shepherds like Him. And not forgetting also all those who aspire to the priesthood and are discerning on their vocation in life. We also pray for them and give them our support, that they may make the right decision, and commit themselves to whatever the Lord has called them into.

Lastly, for all of us who are members of the laity, it does not mean that we have no calling or vocation in life. God has blessed us with many graces and blessings, with many talents and abilities, and we are all called to contribute in whatever way we can, in our respective fields and capacity, as members of Christian families and communities, to be holy and faithful, to be exemplary in how we live our lives, so that by our own lives and examples, we may also be ‘shepherds’ to one another, and to be role models in inspiring many to follow the Lord.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all renew our commitment to the Lord therefore on this Good Shepherd and Vocation Sunday, that each and every one of us as members and parts of the same Body of Christ, the Church, we may do our very best to contribute to the efforts of the Church, in fulfilling our calling to be the Lord’s faithful witnesses, in reaching out to many people of all the nations, in our everyday living so that not only we can encourage and inspire one another to live faithfully and stay close to the Lord’s ways, but we may also inspire others who have not yet known or accepted the Lord, that they too may accept the Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, as their Lord and Saviour.

May the Lord, our Good Shepherd, be with us always, and may He strengthen each and every one of us, His beloved flock and sheep, that all of us may remain in His love, and will continue to love Him, our most beloved Shepherd and Guide, at all times. May God bless our every good works, efforts and endeavours, now and always. Amen.