FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)
Acts 2:14A, 36-41 | Psalm 23: 1-3A, 3B4, 5, 6 | 1 Peter 2:20B-25 | John 10:1-10
We are in the fourth Sunday since the joy of Easter commonly known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” and is also known as The World Day of Prayer for Vocations. As we gather together as a family to celebrate the Lord’s Day, let us focus on the identity we gain in baptism, the meaning
of life struggles and how to find safety and security in Jesus--the Good Shepherd.
Our first reading is taken from Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. He tells the leaders that they crucified the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ. No one in the audience disputed Peter’s claim that they are responsible for the death of Jesus. They understand that they had done wrong and interrupted Peter to ask what they can do to make things right. Peter asked them to receive the forgiveness of their sins by becoming baptized in the name of Jesus and by acknowledging the Risen Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Children are sometimes forgetful, so it's up to moms to put name labels on all their belongings. I remember Herminia, my mom, many years ago when I was still a grader at I.S.M. (Ispiritu Santo sa Maynila, not International School Manila) spending several hours tediously writing my name on all of my text books, notebooks, and supplies to keep them from getting lost or stolen. The Greek βαπτίζω (baptizo) is translated “to baptize”. According to contemporary dictionaries, the primary meaning is “to dip, plunge, or immerse.” The secondary meaning is to “bring under the influence.” The baptismal rite begins significantly with the minister asking the parents, “What name do you give your child?” This name is given before God. When we enter the waters of baptism, God marks us with the "Christian label" which speaks primarily of our personal, public identification with Him to keep us from getting lost or stolen. From that moment on, we are no longer ours, but God's. Our thinking, speaking, and doing are all under the influence of Jesus. We take Jesus Christ's name upon ourselves more fully and make an effort to become more like Him.
The early Christians faced many hardships on account of their new found faith. In the second reading, Peter encourages the suffering Christians to follow in the footsteps of their Good Shepherd, Jesus, the “suffering servant.” This experience allowed the early Christians to realize the truth that Jesus’ suffering and death enabled them to become more fully the children of God and be healed of their sins. Bacoor City, though an urban environment, is blessed to have a wide variety of trees, shrubs, palm ferns, and medicinal herbs in its landscape. One day, while I was walking my daughter to her school, we came upon something we rarely see. It was an almost-born butterfly. The little cocoon was spinning and spinning and part of one fabulous wing was already out. This was right at Jill's eye level, so I bent down and looked at the little cocoon at her level. She said, “Oh, Daddy, he’s just struggling to get out.” It looked like it couldn’t break free. It looked desperate. It looked like it was making no progress. I thought I'll just help it. So I reached down ever so carefully and gently and took the bottom of that cocoon and split it. And it all dropped in a blob, crawling around with a swollen body and wrinkled wings. It never was able to fly. I learned a lesson; the butterfly needs the struggle of emergence to be able to fly. Indeed, struggling is an important part of any growth experience. Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives too. When we ask God for strength, he gives us difficulties to make us strong. When we seek for wisdom, he gives us problems to solve. When we pray for wealth, he gives us brain and brawn to work. When we desire courage, He allows dangers for us to overcome. When we ask for love, he gives us troubled people to help. When we implore him for favors, he gives us opportunities. We may not exactly receive what we yearn for but God gives us the struggle we needed to achieve them. If God allowed us to go through our lives without any obstacles, we would not be as strong as what we could have been. As the Dominican virgin and penitent Saint Rose of Lima taught, "Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven."
One of my most prized experiences as a young seminarian was when I spent Summertime in Bautista, Pangasinan. While going around the town, I encountered two young shepherds enjoying conversation and lugaw for breakfast whose flocks had become completely mixed together while feeding on grass. I asked how hundreds of sheep would sort themselves out and follow their own shepherd. Eager to impress me, the young men stood at a distance from one another, yelled "Unalis ak la! Unalis ak la!" (I'm going! I'm going!) and began walking in opposite directions. Immediately, the sheep fell in line behind the proper herdsman! That's not all. The two young men exchanged shirts and once again stood apart and shouted. So familiar were the shepherd's voices to the sheep that despite the disguised outward appearance of the young shepherds they again followed their own shepherd. In the Gospel reading this weekend, Jesus uses the analogy of a shepherd and his sheep. The sheep trust their shepherd. After all, their shepherd is with them all the time, calls them by name, and keeps them safe from wild animals and thieves. They know their shepherd so well that they recognize the sound of his voice. They trust him so much that they follow him wherever he goes. Jesus also refers to himself as the “gate for the sheep.” The image of the gate can be seen in this way: the sheep come in from pasture, and are brought into a makeshift pen. There is a narrow opening which can be closed by a simple gate, but, more likely, it was the shepherd who lay across the opening to keep the sheep from leaving, and to keep others from entering. The person of the shepherd is the very boundary between safety and danger, and is the source of protection as if to say to an outsider: “If you want to harm or steal any of my sheep, you have to get through me to do it!” The sheep only responds with trust to the voice and a word they recognize. If someone they don't know tries to herd them with words they do not understand, they will run away in fear. Unlike sheep, so many of us do not flee from these contrary voices. Rather we entertain them. They tickle our ears. They call to us through our televisions, on Facebook, and in the political arena, and we so often listen to them. We have a Shepherd who is reliable than anyone else in this world. In order to be led by Jesus we need to know his voice. We need to listen to his call and then be willing to follow where he leads. This all hinges on spending time to know the Lord who is always present in our lives, always available. We all need to have intimacy with Him through prayer and study.
Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord, I invite you to be the good, loving and merciful shepherd of my life. In baptism you have marked me with the “Christian” label to remind me always that I am your prized possession. Do not allow me to be snatched from your hand by the enemy. Keep me and my family in your sheepfold. Help me understand that growth often means pain. Suffering is often how you show us yourself. Through my daily struggles teach me to see your pierced hands for what they really are—redemption and relationship. Help me, dear Jesus, to listen always to your voice for you are our true safety and security, forever and ever. Amen. <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum