‘World Vocation Sunday’ Theme: The Good Shepherd
Inspired writers did not think of God the great truths of the faith in philosophical terms but shared their experience clearly to the point of creating a lasting impression. Their bold imagination, made God of the two testaments to be alive. God speaks with human words; hears the cries of the people, sees the plight of the poor, listens and cares “God holds us like a mother holds a baby to her cheek and teaches us to walk” Hosea 11:3-4. God loves with an everlasting love that is why his involvement in human history cannot be doubted; he is the good shepherd.
First reading: Acts 4:8-12
In the first reading, Luke affirms that Jesus had been sent by God to be the cornerstone of the spiritual construction of the Kingdom. Cornerstone/kephale gonias in Greek was the stone which joined the two sides of a romanesque arch to maintain structural balance without which the building toppled. With vivid images like this, Luke emphasized the centrality of Jesus in divine history. Bearing this in mind Peter risked before the leaders of the people to assert “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead” Acts 4:2. Peter had been confronted by Priests, Captain of the Temple Guards and Sadducees; taken into custody, held overnight and summoned before the Sanhedrin the next day. Upon being questioned, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” Acts 4:7, Peter responded that he had restored a cripple to full physical health by the power of the risen Lord whom they had crucified and killed but now he was alive.
God had sent Jesus as Savior the world but humanity had rejected and crucified him but the same God had raised him. The privilege of this resurrection is that all who believe in him will be saved. Using mere speech, Luke was able: 1- to appeal for conversion of mind and heart; 2- to emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit as guide and mentor of the Church; 3- to trace the growth and evolving of the merging Church; 4- to underscore the universal scope of God’s saving plan as perceived and sustained by the Church until today. Being recipients of Peter’s speech today, we are challenged not to condemn the Jewish leaders for their negative reaction to Jesus, but to search ourselves for any such lingering traces of resistance and tactics to reject the good news.
Second reading: 1John 3:1-2
With a compelling description 1John asserts that we are more than stones built upon Jesus the cornerstone but a people with greater closeness than that of sheep with their shepherd. God invites us to progressively share in the relationship of the beloved Son first as ordinary men and women who come to see where Jesus stays cf. John 1:39. Gradually, from mere curious spectators we became believing followers who remain in his company; traveling and sharing his ministry cf. John 2:22. In the course of this relationship, we become companions. The term companions originate from the Latin cum panis/with bread since companions share all they have. Using familiar images, John describes the loyalty and unity characterizing companions similar to that of sheep and a shepherd cf. John 10:4; like branches on a vine cf. John 15:1-7. Pope Francis will add that a good shepherd smell like the sheep he/she tends. A child born in family is cherished at birth, nurtured during difficult times loved even during the most distressing moments.
John qualifies believers as privileged God’s children living in a special relationship but with some eventualities. First: the world that refused to recognize Jesus will not accept them either. Second: God’s children will be in the world but not of the world. Third: this parent-child relationship which we share with God is still evolving “We are God’s children now; what we shall later be has not yet come to light” 1John 3:2 because perfection as an ongoing and dynamic process. To put it perhaps a little bit simpler, 1John is stirring within us the joy of always improving.
Gospel: John 10:11-18
The gospel today shifts our attention away from architectural motif to an agricultural one. In order to communicate the constancy of God’s love and concern for humankind, John offers to us a pastoral scene wherein, the good shepherd knows and cares for the sheep and pledges to do so even at the cost of his own life. While most of us probably may not own sheep or have any experience at the harsh and demanding life-style of a shepherd; most of us have firsthand knowledge of the difference between hired hands and owners of a particular operation.
As regards attitude and motivation, the owner has a vested interest and will protect it at all costs. Part time and hired wage earners who do not share the owner’s sense of responsibility, is less interested when demands overwhelm. When conflicts arise it will be the owner and not the clock-watcher who knows what needs to be done. John depicts Jesus as the good shepherd who is highly reliable since he claims for his own those whom the Father has given him. Jesus operates out of love and not for pay cf. John 10:13.
The sixth century B.C. Prophet Ezekiel offers a similar comparison by contrasting the shoddy care with which Israel’s kings oppressed the people entrusted to them as opposed to the loving care lavished by God the good shepherd who cares for lost, the strayed and the sick cf. Ezekiel 34:11-13. Jesus’ liking for the wayward was evident throughout his earthly ministry; he knows his sheep and they recognize him even by voice John 10:14. Just as the ancient Israelite shepherd would walk ahead of his sheep, scouting the path and blazing the trail, so also is Jesus ahead of his own ready to defend them at the cost of his life.
Jesus is the true and good shepherd not merely a herder of the masses. The distinction between shepherding and herding should be noted. Herding conjures up images of coercion and restriction, whereas shepherding requires careful, personal attentiveness to individual needs. Jesus’ reference to other sheep and to one flock underscores the universality and unity which are characteristic to the community of believers. When Jesus mentions the other sheep, he is referring to the poor, tax collectors, sinners, gentiles and all those ostracized by society.
When Jesus remains the cornerstone of our lives, we can stand steady the storms of this world. We are all companions on the journey of salvation who must care for one another. As believers we are challenged to act inclusively so that no one falls off the way to paradise since we are one flock under one shepherd. Being World Vocation Sunday we are reminded to encourage those among us who sense a call to the priesthood and consecrated life. Our generosity with material and financial support are highly encouraged, while prayer needs to be always in reach. When we foster vocations and to provide helpful guidance to all who senses the call, the Church will not lack holy and capable vocations because the entire family of God supports the cause.