Have you ever watched a herd of animals as they journey toward a destination?
It’s remarkable that their every move seems to be in sync with the entire group. Whether it’s a herd of cows, sheep, or even a flock of geese, the group seems to move as one body. Yet the key aspect that holds these groups together is their willingness to struggle—even suffer— to remain united as one body.
Imagine if Christians were united in this way! Our actions, beliefs, and movements would appear as one body, united in a deeper purpose. By uniting in this way, we would demonstrate our willingness to suffer for each other for the sake of deepening our unity as a body of Christ.
This has always been the call for followers of Christ. Jesus redeemed all of humanity in himself and even commanded his disciples to “be one, as you, Father, are in me and I you” (John 17:21). And yet theological, cultural, and liturgical disputes have often split the Body of Christ from its intended unity.
So how can we achieve a united front? We must not only turn to our eternal good shepherd for guidance, but we must be willing to suffer for our fellow Christians in the hopes of uniting more deeply in Christ’s love. This unity will not only draw us closer to each other, but in remaining united we can endure whatever sufferings may come our way, in the hopes that all Christians will be reunited one day with our great king and eternal shepherd.
Unpack the First Reading
In this reading, we see a dispute developing between Paul and the Jews over the offer of the Gospel to the Gentiles. The Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism at first accept what Paul and Barnabas have to say, but some of them seem to turn away when the broader Gentile populace of Pisidian Antioch begins to show interest in embracing the Gospel. Paul reminds those among the Jewish community that God had instructed the Jewish people through the prophet Isaiah that Israel had a destiny to fulfill in spreading the worship of the one, true God to all nations.
Paul reminds his Jewish hearers that the interest of the Gentiles in this Gospel is a sign of the fulfillment of this prophecy. If Israel is to complete its task as the “servant of the Lord” mentioned in Isaiah, then they must extend themselves to the Gentiles. God has chosen them for a mission of evangelization of the nations. To what extent have we been faithful to that evangelistic commission, which has now been transferred to the Church? As Catholics, have we strived to be “a light to the Gentiles…an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth”?
Unpack the Second Reading
In speaking about this passage, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1138*) refers to the immense crowd seen by John in his vision as “‘Recapitulated in Christ,’ these are the ones who take part in the service of the praise of God and the fulfillment of his plan.” Other figures are included, and all participate in the “recapitulation” or fulfillment of all things in Christ. This fulfillment culminates in a gigantic, cosmic worship service.
In the description of the significance of the scene to John we have the ironic phrase “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them.” The Lamb is the Shepherd. In that simple phrase is contained the miracle of the Incarnation. Christ’s role as mediator, standing in the gap between God and man as God/Man, is expressed in his dual designation as Lamb and Shepherd.
In the cultures of the ancient Near East, the shepherd was just such a symbol of gentleness, authority, solicitude, and power. The shepherd was guide, protector, companion, and caretaker of his flock. For this reason, the shepherd was a preferred image for kings. In Jesus, we see combined God and man, shepherd and lamb, ruler and companion. He is Lamb, Shepherd, and King.
Unpack the Gospel
As consoling as the image of the good shepherd is to us, those who heard Jesus utter these words picked up rocks with which to stone him. They questioned his status as “Christ” or Messiah, asking for an outright declaration. Jesus protests that he has made his claim clearly, but then extends the image of himself as shepherd to identify himself with the Father.
The minds of Jesus’ listeners would have been attuned to the association that he was making between himself and God, who had promised to shepherd his people in Ezekiel 34:11. When listeners ask Jesus for a clear declaration that he’s the promised Messiah, He responds, “But you do not believe because you are not among my sheep” (John 10:26).
In keeping with the division of the sheep that was prophesied in Ezekiel 34, we’re told twice in John’s Gospel that “there was a division” among the Jews over Jesus (John 9:16; 10:19, RSV). Jesus explains clearly that the determining factor that decides whether or not anyone belongs to the Father is whether or not one “hears” in the words of Jesus the voice of the shepherd prophesied in Ezekiel 34. By following Jesus’ voice, we receive eternal life and remain safely in the hands of the Father.
For Reflection & Discussion
Watch the short Opening the Word video presentation at StMichael.FORMED.org.
The presenter, Jules Miles, says that this week’s Gospel is all about “who are the real followers of Jesus?” According to the presentation, who are the Christians? And who are the shepherds of the flock today?
The Gospel reading indicates that the sheep follow in the example of their shepherd, Jesus. Elsewhere in the Gospels, specifically in John 10:11, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” How can we lay down our lives for our fellow Christians each day? How will these sacrifices help us to grow in Christian unity?
Digging Deeper: That They Might Be One
“ ‘Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.’ Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: ‘That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, . . . so that the world may know that you have sent me.’ The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit.”
Reprinted from Opening the Word Leader Guide with permission from Augustine Institute.