Characteristics of Sheep of the Good Shepherd, 4th Tuesday of Easter, May 9, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter
May 9, 2017
Acts 11:19-26, Ps 87, Jn 10:22-30

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily:

  • This morning, Jesus completes the words on which we’ve been pondering over the last three days about how he is our Good Shepherd. The Church has us pray over these words in the heart of each Easter season so that we can learn better how to respond to him risen from the dead as his good sheep, so that he can give us life to the full, so that we can live united with him. Today he summarizes the whole discourse saying six things:
    • To believe Jesus we need to be his sheep: He says to those challenging him during the Feast of the Dedication in the Temple, “You do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” Many times we think we have to believe first and then follow, but what Jesus is saying is that while of course there is an initial gift of faith, we grow in faith by following Jesus as his good sheep. The old Latin aphorism salva ambulando applies here that Jesus saves us as we follow him. The most obvious application of this in Baptism for those of us who had the great fortune of being baptized as infants, as I was with my twin brother 46 years ago today. We become his sheep on the day of our infant Baptism and only later are we able to grow in faith of him by the graces working within.
    • His sheep hear his voice: We are able to discern his voice from impostors’ because we’re constantly seeking to attune to his frequency in prayer, through Sacred Scripture, in the crucial work of the magisterium, in the solid example of the saints.
    • I know them: Jesus says that he knows each one by name and we are in a personal relationship with him. There’s the famous parable when those outside the wedding feast are knocking, seeking to enter, and the Lord says, “Truly I do not know you.” Jesus’ sheep have entered into a deep, intimate friendship with him. This is akin to Biblical spousal “knowledge” whereby we not only know the other intimately but come to know ourselves through the experience of being loved and loving in term, from being known.
    • They follow me: If we’re really Jesus’ sheep, we’re seeking to live by his example, to want what he wants, will what he chooses, and love as he loves. We get up from where we are and follow him to where we wants us to go, even when we’d prefer to stay in our comfortable spiritual recliners. We follow him on the inside and outside, even when others stretch out our arms and drag us to a place we’d rather not go.
    • He gives them eternal life: Jesus gives us the gift of eternal life not just later but now, because eternal life, as he says elsewhere, is to know the Father and Jesus Christ whom the Father has sent. This is what makes sense of the second part of the phrase, “and they shall never perish.” If that were referring only to the afterlife, it would be nonsensical, because no one in heaven will perish; but it likewise refers to now, that if we are experiencing the eternal life that comes from the intimate friendship and communion with Christ, we will never die forever, because death will be merely a change of address. This is what gave so much strength to the martyrs.
    • No one can take them from my hand: I love this phrase. Once we’re in the Good Shepherd’s hands, no thief, no wolf, nothing in all of creation, can separate us from him, just like Jesus says no one can rip us from the Father’s strong, loving hands. The only thing that can take us out of God’s hand is our own free, frankly stupid, sinful choices by which we, like the Prodigal Son, voluntarily leave God’s loving embrace And so remaining in Jesus’ hands, choosing to entrust ourselves to him, is the wisest decision we can ever make. And even when we wander, Jesus’ hands are still outstretched ready to embrace us back.
  • Today we have two different examples of those who were the Lord’s good sheep, who heard his voice, who had a deep personal relationships with Christ, who followed him, who remained in his hand, and who experienced in this world and now experience forever his eternal life.
  • St. Paul’s story we know well. He was already a follower of God before his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, but he was following God in a partial way, trying to destroy what turned out to be God’s plan for salvation by seeking to destroy what he thought was a blasphemous sect. But when Jesus struck him down and spoke to him on the Road to Damascus, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?,” Saul entered into a relationship with Jesus and for the rest of his life tried to serve him as much as before, mistakenly, he tried to destroy his Mystical Body. So great would his union with the Good Shepherd become that he would eventually say, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me,” and “For me to live is Christ.” He shows the way we’re supposed to follow the Good Shepherd until the end, laying down our lives for him who gave everything for us, and seeking to bring as many as possible into the Lord’s hands.
  • St. Barnabas is one of the most important figures in the history of the early Church. If it weren’t for his interventions, we never would have had St. Paul, because it was he who prevented Paul’s gifts from being wasted, vouching for him with the leaders and members of the Church in Jerusalem who didn’t trust him because of his murderous past, and launching him on the trajectory that led to his founding so many Churches across the ancient world and bringing so many others into Jesus’ fold and hands. Eventually after Paul’s life was endangered by people seeking to kill him, Paul was sent by the Church back to his native Tarsus, but Barnabas wouldn’t leave him there for long. As we see in today’s first reading, after the Church in Jerusalem had heard of how many converts were entering the Church in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to encourage them “to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart” and guide them into a deeper grasp of the Gospel. St. Luke tells us today that his preaching and exhortation only served to make more converts. Barnabas did not have the time to guide them all and needed other expert help. Rather than assuming the arduous task of training others to be teachers or going back to Jerusalem to find help, he traveled to Tarsus to find Paul and bring him back to Antioch. And they headed to Antioch where “for a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people,” forming them in the love of the Lord in such a way that it the disciples for the first time were called “little Christs,” or “Christians.” Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement,” was a great spiritual Shepherd after Christ’s example, helped St. Paul to become one, and formed the multitudes to remain in God’s hands.
  • Today we come to the Good Shepherd in the Holy Eucharist and through the intercession of Saints Paul and Barnabas, we ask for the grace to place ourselves so firmly in the hands of the Good Shepherd who so humbly will place himself in our hands and mouth, that we may never ceased being embraced by him and come one day to experience the eternal life of knowing the Father and Son to which every Eucharist is a bridge and foretaste!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 ACTS 11:19-26

Those who had been scattered by the persecution
that arose because of Stephen
went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch,
preaching the word to no one but Jews.
There were some Cypriots and Cyrenians among them, however,
who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks as well,
proclaiming the Lord Jesus.
The hand of the Lord was with them
and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
The news about them reached the ears of the Church in Jerusalem,
and they sent Barnabas to go to Antioch.
When he arrived and saw the grace of God,
he rejoiced and encouraged them all
to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart,
for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.
And a large number of people was added to the Lord.
Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul,
and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch.
For a whole year they met with the Church
and taught a large number of people,
and it was in Antioch that the disciples
were first called Christians.

Responsorial Psalm PS 87:1B-3, 4-5, 6-7

R. (117:1a) All you nations, praise the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
His foundation upon the holy mountains
the LORD loves:
The gates of Zion,
more than any dwelling of Jacob.
Glorious things are said of you,
O city of God!
R. All you nations, praise the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I tell of Egypt and Babylon
among those who know the LORD;
Of Philistia, Tyre, Ethiopia:
“This man was born there.”
And of Zion they shall say:
“One and all were born in her;
And he who has established her
is the Most High LORD.”
R. All you nations, praise the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
They shall note, when the peoples are enrolled:
“This man was born there.”
And all shall sing, in their festive dance:
“My home is within you.”
R. All you nations, praise the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia JN 10:27

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 10:22-30

The feast of the Dedication was taking place in Jerusalem.
It was winter.
And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon.
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him,
“How long are you going to keep us in suspense?
If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.
But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.
My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”