Fourth Sunday of Easter

Each year, the Fourth Sunday of Easter looks at different aspects of Jesus being a shepherd. This Sunday is designated as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Today’s Gospel opens with Jesus’ words: “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11).

St. Thomas Aquinas reflects: “That Christ is a shepherd is clear enough, for as a flock is led and fed by the shepherd, so the faithful are nourished by Christ with spiritual food, and even with His own body and blood” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 1397).

Jesus leads us, not only as a group but as individuals. Jesus feeds us with His own body and blood, in the Eucharist, which, of course, is given individually. Isaiah wrote: “He will feed His flock like a shepherd” (Is 40:11).

The Letter of Peter describes Jesus as a shepherd: “For you were straying like sheep, but now have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (1 Pet 2:25).

Thomas points out that Jesus has already said that He is the “door” (Jn 10:9): “We enter through Him, because it is by Him that we are led to happiness” (1398). No one else can be the door.

Jesus is the true light: “He was the true light who enlightens everyone” (Jn 1:9). He shares His light but we are not the light. Even John the Baptist “was not the light but came to bear witness to the light” (Jn 1:9).

Thomas points out that others are called to be shepherds: “Being a shepherd he shared with others, and conferred it with his members: for Peter was a shepherd and the other apostles were shepherds, as well as all good bishops” (1398). God told Jeremiah: “I will give you shepherds after My own heart” (Jer 3:15). 

A shepherd is not just an effective administrator, as Thomas affirms: “For no one is a good shepherd unless he has become one with Christ by love, and has become a member of the true shepherd” (1399).

Jesus is identified by self-giving: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). St. Thomas says “The office of a good shepherd is charity…  The good shepherd is intent upon the welfare of the flock, but the evil one is intent upon his own” (1399).

Ezekiel affirmed: “”Shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?” (Ez 34:2). The world is full of leaders who use their roles for personal advantage.

Thomas notes that “A good shepherd, even over animals, endures many things for the flock whose welfare he has at heart… but not necessarily to expose himself to death.” (1399). However, the spiritual shepherd must be willing to face death:

But because the spiritual safety of the human flock outweighs the bodily life of the shepherd, when danger threatens the safety of the flock the spiritual shepherd ought to suffer the loss of his bodily life for the safety of the flock. This is what our Lord says, the good shepherd lays down his life, i.e., his bodily life, for the sheep, the sheep who are his by authority and charity. Both are required, for they must belong to him and he must love them; the first without the second is not enough. Furthermore, Christ has given us an example of this teaching: ‘He laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren’ (1 Jn 3:16) (1399).

It is not enough that the sheep belong to the shepherd. He must love them.

A good shepherd has solicitude for his sheep: “We read of the good shepherd that the sheep are his own, not only as a trust, but also by love and solicitude: ‘I hold you in my heart’ (Phil 1:7). On the other hand, it is said of the hireling, whose own the sheep are not, i.e., the hireling has no care for them: ‘My shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves’” (Ez 34:8) (1404).

Some farm workers are as devoted as the owners to the animals, while others do the least they need to do. Thomas notes: “For the good shepherd, who loves his flock, lays down his lifefor it, i.e., he exposes himself to dangers that affect his bodily life. But the evil shepherd, because he has no love for the flock, flees when he sees the wolf” (1405).         

Thomas describes the evil shepherd: “Since the evil shepherd seeks his own advantage and has no love or solicitude for the flock, it follows that he is not willing to endure any inconvenience for them. Thus he says of the hireling, ‘he cares nothing for the sheep,’ i.e., he does not love them, and is not solicitous for them” (1408).

During the Ebola crisis in 2014, four Members of the Hospitaler Brothers of St. John of God, a congregation that cares for the sick, died taking care of Ebola victims in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Every priest and religious and Christian in their own way can take Thomas’ words to heart: “The good shepherd seeks the welfare of his flock, and not his own. He is concerned for his sheep, that is, he loves them and is solicitous for them: ‘I hold you in my heart’” (Phil 1:7) (1408).

Jesus is the good shepherd, who loves us: “As a shepherd seeks out his flock…so will I seek out My sheep”(Ez 34:12).

The good shepherds follow Jesus’ example. Jesus doesn’t just provide for the flock as a whole, e.g. with a good grazing place and water. The good shepherd knows the sheep individually: “The first of these is that he calls his own sheep by name. Concerning this, He says, ‘I know My own’: ‘The Lord knows those who are His’ (2 Tim 2:19). I know, I say, not just with mere knowledge only, but with a knowledge joined with approval and love: ‘To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins’” (Rev 1:5) (1412).

The sheep respond to the good shepherd: “The sheep hear his voice and know him. And concerning this he says, ‘and My own know Me.’ My own, I say, by predestination, by vocation and by grace. This is like saying: They love Me and obey Me. Thus, we must understand that they have a loving knowledge about which we read: ‘They shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest’ (Jer 31:34)” (1412).

Jesus declares: “As the Father knows Me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus has said “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son” (Matt 11:27).

Thomas laid down His life: “Our Lord says this because in knowing the Father, He knows the will of the Father that the Son should die for the salvation of the human race. He is also saying here that He is the mediator between God and man. For as He is related to the sheep as known by them and as knowing them, so also He is related to the Father, because as the Father knows Him, so He knows the Father” (1413).

We know this shepherd’s love: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 Jn 3:16). The fruit of His death, was not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles: “He prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (Jn 11:51).

Jesus proclaims: “There shall be one flock then, one shepherd.” There will be unity of faith: “… in regard to this he says, one shepherd: ‘They shall all have one shepherd,’  (Ez 37:24).”

+ Letter of Bishop Andrew Nkea, bishop of Mamfe, Cameroon, November 23, 2018

Fr. Cosmas Oboto Ondari was bom in Gucha, Kisi county, in Kenya on the 19th of September 1985. Fr. Ondari joined the Mill Hill Missionaries. He studied Theology at the Tangaza University College in Nairobi. He was ordained on the 26th of March 2017. In April 2017, the Superiors of the Mill Hill Society appointed Fr. Ondari to Mamfe Diocese where he was then posted to the St. Martin of Tours Parish, Kembong.

Already in December, 2017, when the security situation in Kembong was very tense, Fr. Ondari and his Parish Priest Fr. Tiberius Vouni, along side with some of their parishioners, moved out from Kembong to Mamfe. The village of more than 5000 people was almost completely abandoned and many houses were burnt down. In April, 2018, in a bid to give hope to the desperate population, many of whom were living in the bushes in horrendous conditions, Fr. Ondari and his Parish Priest courageously opted to go back to Kembong so as to encourage the people to return. Some of the people with whom they ran to Mamfe went back and sought refuge in the closed down premises of the Catholic School in Kembong.

It was in this context that Fr. Ondari was brutally and recklessly murdered on the 21st of November, 2018. Eye Witness accounts say that he was killed by Government Soldiers (Gendarmarie Nationale), who were shooting at random from their passing vehicle.

Bishop Andrew visited Kembong Parish on Thursday the 22nd of November, 2018, and personally counted 21 Bullet holes made on the Church building of Kembong where at the time, the priest, the Catechist and many Christians were carrying out various activities in the Mission compound. The blood of the murdered priest was still clearly seen on the cemented entrance to the Church just at the door. He died right in the house of God

Bishop Andrew told us that an eighty-year old man in the church in Kembong told him, “We have lost our papa.” Bishop Andrew simply said, “He has done his work. He was a papa.”

We can all be good shepherds by helping those around us. Certainly in families, husbands and wives can shepherd each other and their children. Grandparents can be very good shepherds. Every type of employment has possibilities of being of service to others, in addition to obvious ones, caring for the sick and education.

An example comes to my mind. I live at the house for our postulants, who just came to the Dominicans, a month ago. At times, they will be required to sing alone at public Masses. Sixty years when I entered the Dominicans, within my first month, I had to sing the Epistle (second reading) in Latin at Sunday Mass for the Parish on three Sundays, without any training. It was a nightmare for me and surely those who were listening! I see that two of our friars are spending much time preparing the postulants to sing publicly. They are good shepherds. There are opportunities for each of us.

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of John, Part II, may be found in the translation by Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., published by St. Bede’s Publications.

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