The Fourth Sunday of Easter [B]
Acts 4:8-12 + 1 John 3:1-2 + John 10:11-18
“A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
The fourth Sunday of Easter is called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Knowing this, you’re not likely to be surprised by Jesus’ first words in today’s Gospel Reading: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” In other words, a good shepherd is one who serves others in a radically sacrificial manner.
Having noted that, you might wonder what the Responsorial Psalm is to go with this Gospel passage. Your thoughts might turn to the 23rd psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” But instead, the refrain for today’s Psalm is from Psalm 118: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” What does Psalm 118 have to do with being a good shepherd? To answer this, we need some perspective.
If you go back to the first words of Jesus from today’s Gospel Reading, they say something different from the images conjured by Psalm 23. The 23rd psalm, after all, is sung by one of the sheep. The 23rd psalm describes the comforts that come from the care of the Good Shepherd: green pastures, reposing near restful waters, and so on. This comfort is much like what a child enjoys under the care of his or her parents.
In the Second Reading, Saint John says that that, in fact, “that is what we are”: children of God. During the season of Easter, the Church celebrates the joy and glory of Jesus’ Resurrection. Hopefully, we can celebrate with the joy of little children, giving thanks for the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, through which God the Father has adopted us.
However, as soon as we realize that we should be giving thanks, things begin to change. Giving thanks, of course, is not something that children do easily. A child has to be taught to give thanks. Left to ourselves, we tend to believe that we deserve everything good thing that comes to us. As we learn to give thanks, we begin to realize that all the gifts that we enjoy—life itself, our relationships, our material and spiritual goods—ultimately come from someone else, someone who didn’t have to give them to us, and someone who had to make a sacrifice in order to give them to us. This is most especially true of the gift of Divine Mercy.
Once we thoroughly believe this, we see that we ought to be acting like the one who has given us these gifts. That is, our lives on earth ought to be given over less to the enjoying of gifts and more to the giving of sacrificial gifts. “We are God’s children now; what we shall later be has not yet come to light.” As Christians, we are all in the process of growing into this truth: becoming more like God the Father, not only the giver of all good gifts [see James 1:17], but someone who sacrifices what is most precious to Him in giving these good gifts.
As a child grows up to resemble his parents, so each Christian is meant to become like God the Father. That means that a Christian is defined by his or her own sacrifices. Those sacrifices will naturally differ from one person to the next. One Christian is called to sacrifices such as caring for a sick child, or loving a child by offering forgiveness when he or she does something seriously wrong. The sacrifices that strengthen another Christian might be caring for an elderly relative.
Whatever these sacrifices might be that an individual Christian is called to, we can surely say this of them: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” The world more often than not rejects what is right and just. Those we serve may reject our sacrifices. Perhaps later on, those who reject our sacrifices will come to appreciate what was offered for them. But perhaps not. Regardless, God asks us to make them.
The strength to make such sacrifices selflessly comes from the Sacrifice of the Mass, offered for us by those called to the ordained priesthood. Among other reasons, then, we ought to pray for vocations to the ordained priesthood in order to ensure that Christians everywhere might be able to receive the spiritual strength that God offers in Holy Communion.