4th Sunday of Easter, Year B
Acts of the Apostles 4:8-12
1 John 3:1-2
April 26, 2015
World Day of Prayer for Vocations
Jesus proclaims “I am the good shepherd.” We take this as a basic statement. After all, the 23rd Psalm begins “The Lord is my shepherd” and we know Jesus to be our Lord.
While it seems simple for us, it was blasphemy to the Jews who had not accepted Jesus. We should note that Jesus didn’t just say, “I am a good shepherd” but that He is “the good shepherd.”
Anyone can be “a” shepherd but to say “the” good shepherd was to make oneself out to be God and that was blasphemy. They didn’t realize Jesus was God, consubstantial with the Father.
The image of the good shepherd comes from those who tends the flocks, literally “shepherds” but it means so much more here. Shepherds are the ones in charge of the people, called to lead them in God’s ways. It was often the kings or priests who were called to shepherd the people.
The problem is that some of the people who God had called to shepherd His people were not doing a good job. They lead the people to get want they wanted for themselves rather than for the good of the people.
This was nothing new in Jesus’ time on Earth. We can read the Parable of the Shepherds in chapter 34 of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. There God speaks of those who are failing in their role as shepherds and proclaims that He Himself will shepherd His people. We see this come to fulfillment in Jesus.
Being a shepherd for God’s people is a demanding task. It is not for someone just looking for a job to make money. Jesus speaks of those who run at the first sign of trouble. We have to be committed to be shepherds.
How far does the commitment need to go? In the eight verses in today’s gospel, Jesus says three times that the good shepherd “lays down his life.” Jesus gives us the perfect example of this in His Crucifixion. Jesus’ life is not taken from Him. Remember what Jesus says when He is on trial? Pilate acts as the one in power but Jesus tells him that he would have no power to crucify Him if it had not been handed over to him. Jesus’ life is not taken from Him. He freely gives it up for us. That is how dedicated Jesus is as our shepherd.
How do we look at our jobs or other commitments? Are we like the hired hand who runs at the first sign of the wolf or are we committed to the tasks before us?
Do we see what we do as a “job” or a “vocation”?
Today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We are all called to serve God by living our lives as Jesus teaches us and sharing our faith with others. Do we live as good stewards of the gifts, our time, talent, and treasure that God has given us?
Is it always easy? Nope. I know for me being a priest is hard and I don’t do as well as I should but I continue to believe it is what I am called to do. Being a priest means not being married or having children but I am OK with that. I believe celibacy is necessary because I could not do what I do as a priest and pastor and still have time to be a good husband and father. I freely make the commitment of celibacy.
Some people don’t understand why. I remember when I announced my decision to quit my job with the state to go to seminary. Many of my co-workers thought it was wonderful. One day I overheard a couple people talking to each other about how they couldn’t understand why I would quit a good paying job with great benefits to become a priest. I thought about going over to them and telling them why but then I realize what John says today in the second reading, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” They didn’t understand why I would do this because they couldn’t see it from the perspective of faith and a vocation.
The reality is that it can be a struggle to talk about our faith today. When it comes to church teaching on controversial issues like abortion I have literally had people say to me, “we don’t talk about those things” or when I preached on the death penalty, “why did you need to talk about that so much?” Why do I? Because it is what I believe, what the Church teaches, and what God called me to say. Are you willing to be a voice of truth?
Just so you don’t get the impression that being a priest is not rewarding, there are moments that are rewarding. It comes in the confessional when I can really see the burden of sin lifted from a person and help them to see God’s love and hope for the future.
It is rewarding for me when I visit a sick person and help them find peace in their suffering.
It is rewarding when someone thanks me after a homily and tells me they had never seen it that way before.
It is rewarding when working with a family for a funeral that haven’t been in church in a long time and after the funeral is over they start coming to church regularly again.
Even in the struggles I can realize God’s call. There are times when I feel I can’t do anymore. Then God steps in and takes care of what I can’t do. To me that is God saying this is my call and I am doing what I am supposed to and He will do the rest.
God calls everyone to serve Him. Are you a good steward? Could God be calling you to be a priest, religious, or deacon? Whatever God calls you to be, He will make it possible.