Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion

BIBLICAL APOSTOLATE OF THE PROVINCE

Introducing Fr. Freddie's Gospel Reflections for Multi-purpose

1. These reflections are not written like an essay, but in six precise steps. Choose what you like.

2. They are not meant only for preaching homilies, but for a multi-purpose: for teaching, prayer (either personal or common), reflections and socio-pastoral guidance.

3. They can be used outside the liturgical celebrations also on any other occasions for preaching (by using the same text), private and common prayers, Bible Vigil, Adoration, Prayer Service, Gospel Sharing, conferences, talks, etc.

4. Only the Gospel text prescribed for the Sunday Liturgy in the Catholic Church is used for these reflections, and not the First and Second Readings. The latter are quoted only for reference. Those who want to include them, have to find their own applications.

5. These reflections are written from a pastoral and spiritual perspective, and not from academic or exegetical.

6. The preachers have an option to develop only the focus-statements given in Step 2 on their own into a full-fledged homily. If they want to make their homily shorter, they need not include all the points/thoughts written by the author; instead can select what they like, and (if they want) add their own stories/ anecdotes/ examples.

7. The title, “Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion” indicates the author’s intention to highlight the life-sustaining or life-saving issues in our world and society in the midst of anti-life forces.

8. Though much of the material presented in these reflections is author's, no claim is made for the originality of all the thoughts and ideas. They are adopted from various authors.

9. Reproduction of these reflections in any form needs prior permission.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)

                               Sixth Sunday of Easter [Jn 14:15-21]
21 May 2017
The Promise of the Holy Spirit
Readings: (1) Acts 8:5-8.14-17 (2) 1 Pet 3:15-18
1.  Theme in brief:
The defending and protecting role of the Holy Spirit
2.  Focus Statement:
Out of his boundless love for us, Jesus does not leave us orphaned, but promises to give us the gift of the Holy Spirit as a defender to stand by us against all untruth of the world.
3.  Explanation of the text
In his ‘Farewell Speech' at the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus prepares them not only for his departure from this world, but also for the reception of the Holy Spirit. In today’s gospel text, Jesus, after repeating his favourite theme of ‘loving one another,’ promises them ‘another Paraclete’ or Advocate besides himself to remain with them forever, and emphasizes the intimate unity between him, the Father and the disciples. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ words about loving his Father are closely associated with doing his will and obeying him. Similarly, faithfulness or obedience to Jesus’ words is a sign of a disciple’s love for him as well as the hallmark of discipleship. That is why he tells his disciples that loving him also involves obeying his commandments (14:15). What commandments? Though it is put in the plural, actually Jesus gives only one commandment: To love one another just as he loved his disciples (13:34; 15:12) to the point of  laying down or sacrificing one's life for one’s friends (15:13; 1 Jn 3:16). Maybe he has in mind a second command to “wash one another’s feet” (13:14) – though ultimately this also has the same connotation of humble and sacrificial service rendered to others out of love. Jesus’ way of love is also in obedience to his Father’s will.
In today’s gospel text, we get the impression that the Holy Spirit will not come if Jesus will not depart from this world. That is why he calls the Holy Spirit not as the Paraclete, but rather as ANOTHER Paraclete (14:16). Jesus himself is called the first Paraclete in John’s First Letter. There he writes: "… if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous" (1 Jn 2:1). This word ‘Paraclete’ means one who is called to one’s side as a helper when the person who calls him is in trouble, distress or doubt. It can refer to a person who comes to the help of someone in times of danger or adversity.  It can also can mean a lawyer (as in a case in the court) who fights your case on your behalf. Further, it can mean a defender to stand by your side. There are various translations for this word such as Counsellor, Advocate, Comforter, Consoler and Helper. Each word connotes different aspects of what the Holy Spirit does by continuing Jesus’ divine presence in the world, namely giving comfort, counsel, or strength in time of need.
It is clear that while Jesus is still in the world, he himself plays the Paraclete’s role, such as communicating what is received from his Father, glorifying God, bearing witness to the truth, etc. Hence, sending the Holy Spirit when he is still around is pointless. When he departs from this world, he will not leave them orphaned (14:18), but will give them continual companionship of the Holy Spirit. The word “orphan” not only refers to a child whose father has died, but also to a disciple whose master has died. This image of an orphan suggests that he is not like a master who leaves his disciples helpless, defenceless or unprotected. He will request the Father to give them another Defender to replace his absence and to continue to play his role. Jesus presents the Holy Spirit as his ‘alter ego’ so to say; that is, his representative here on earth after his departure.
Just like Jesus, the Paraclete is the Father’s gift of love for the disciples, and just as Jesus himself is the truth, the Paraclete is the Spirit of truth (14:17). Just as Jesus came to bear testimony to the truth (18:37), the Holy Spirit is now in his place to do the same. Since Jesus himself is the truth, bearing testimony to the truth is the same as bearing witness to Jesus, or to the revelation of God as given by Jesus. He says that the world cannot receive the Spirit of truth because it neither sees nor knows him (14:17). In John’s gospel, the word “world” may mean either (1) the material world, or (2) all the people of the world, or  (3) those who are hostile to Jesus and his followers (15:18). This third type is an ‘unbelieving world,’ that consists of people who reject Jesus’ offer of love and life outright. This is the “world” which is estranged or alienated from God. How can such a world receive the Holy Spirit while it remains unchanged? Since this ‘unbelieving world’ does not accept the truth of Jesus, naturally it won’t accept the Holy Spirit also who further reveals the truth about Jesus. He abides with the disciples (though at present they may not be aware of him). His presence will be of permanent nature (14:16,17). Now God’s dwelling place which was considered to be somewhere out, will be found within the heart of believers.
4.  Application to life                     
Today’s gospel prepares us for the forthcoming feast of Pentecost by reminding us of the promise of Jesus to continue his powerful, permanent and personal presence in our midst through the Holy Spirit. First of all, the best way to prepare for this feast is to remain faithfully obedient to Jesus’ commandments.  In today’s gospel Jesus invites us to love him by obeying his commandments (14:15). His number one commandment is to practice the type of love with which he loved his disciples within our own community of believers. To love one another as Jesus loved precisely means to heal, feed, serve, share, care for, self-sacrifice and forgive others as he did. If we say that we love Jesus, we are called to prove our love for him by choosing to love as he loved. The question is whether we consciously try to choose (by making a decision of the mind) to serve, care for, make self-sacrifice and forgive as Jesus did when our mind is not inclined to do so?
Jesus willed that there should be a special quality of love for “one another” within the Christian community so that their love may become a witness to the world to recognize his presence in them (13:35). This special quality of love among us makes us worthy to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of love and life – promised by Jesus. If the people of the world notice petty bickering, infighting, linguistic/ ethnic/ racial/ caste conflicts, divisions and open fights within the Christian community, it is shameful to say that we are Christ’s followers to people of other faiths. If this happens how can we say that the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts and in our Christian community? People will know that we are Christians not by our love but by our fight. Therefore, as we prepare ourselves for Pentecost, today’s gospel invites us to examine the quality of our love, so that we become worthy temples of the Holy Spirit.
As we know, the Bible presents the Holy Spirit mostly in symbols and metaphors like dove, fire, water, etc. Due to this, for most of us he remains very impersonal. He is almost a forgotten God only to be remembered before we begin a meeting/ workshop/ prayer session/ retreat and on his feast day, namely Pentecost. When we think of him, we mostly remember the picture of a dove, as if he were a bird! In contrast, today’s gospel depicts the Holy Spirit as a permanent and personal friend or companion. We get the impression that he is another friend in addition to Jesus. This friend stands by our side and defends us against all that is unholy, ungodly, untruthful and wicked in us as Christ’s disciples.
It is easy to take Jesus as our intimate friend, since he was born as a human person. Hence, humanly speaking it makes a good sense to sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus” in prayer and worship. On the contrary, because of the abstract nature of the symbols in which the Holy Spirit is presented to us we find it difficult to relate to him as a friend. Actually, when we go to a marketplace or a council or committee meeting, we should imagine in our minds, “What a friend we have in the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit defends us against all dishonest and ungodly ways of the marketplace and guides us to the ways of truth and honesty. Sometimes, we do not know how to manage with controversial issues that come up in meetings and councils. It is the Holy Spirit who puts words in our mouth to speak only what we should in discussions and deliberations, especially when the values of the gospel are negated or challenged. He gives us the courage to stand for truth. All the various words used by translators to translate the word ‘Paraclete’ tell us about the role of the Holy Spirit is various ways – as Counsellor he counsels us about God’s truth; as Advocate, he defends us against the world’s ungodly ways; as Comforter, he comforts us while we face trials; as Consoler, he consoles us in our sorrows; and as Helper he assists us to live out our faith in Jesus the Messiah and grow deeper into it.
But there is a condition. The Holy Spirit does not act automatically or magically just because we speak about him, acquire knowledge about him or believe in him as a truth of our faith. Besides doing so, we need to personally invoke, invite and call our friend (Holy Spirit) to our side by making a concrete decision of the mind or an act of faith: “Come Holy Spirit, come to my side. You are my friend. Stay with me. I’m going on a journey…. business trip….. social gathering….. meeting. Stand by me. Defend me. Guide me. Enlighten me. Give me the wisdom to discern what is right, pure, holy and just. Give me the courage to defend the values of Christ.” Traditionally, we are not taught to have this kind of friendly and personal relationship with the Holy Spirit from childhood. Now it is becomes a matter of our adult faith to  call to our side as a helper whenever we are in trouble, distress, doubt or dilemma. Do we invoke his help in times of danger orr adversity?  Do we seek his advocacy to fight your case against the onslaught of worldly standards and modern secularization? Do we ask him to stand by your side and defend us against the evil and corrupt ways of the world? Blessed are those who develop or cultivate this type of personal spirituality consciously.
What a wonderful plan the Risen Lord has made for us to continue his presence in our midst in the person of the Holy Spirit. We should never think that he has abandoned us like orphans without any defence or protection. He continues to act on our behalf and stand by us as our defender in the world’s court through the Holy Spirit. In the midst of all untruth and falsehood of the world, the Holy Spirit reveals to us the truth about God – his love, his standards, his way of thinking. According to Jesus, the world cannot receive the Spirit of truth because it neither sees nor knows him. How can the world that is opposed to Christ and his gospel values, tha world that prefers darkness see the presence and action of the Holy Spirit? How can the “world” which is blinded to the truth recognize the Spirit of truth? That is why the world still continues to accuse Jesus and makes a mockery of his teachings (values). We too are tempted to blindly agree with these adversaries. It is the Spirit who defends our cause in this trial of truth.
He defends us and gives us the courage to stand for God’s truth against falsehood or untruth in our world. Amidst all sorts of dishonesty, false propaganda, corrupt ways of the world and the bluff of quite a few aggressive advertisements, it is the Holy Spirit who defends our cause in the world’s court. He stands by us as a close friend to protect us against this onslaught of the world. For example, how badly we need the enlightenment and defence of the Holy Spirit to understand the bluff and half-truths of the modern mass media, as well as some of the biased news in our newspapers!
5.  Response to God's Word
When the world puts the values of the gospel like truth on trial, on whose side are we – world’s or Christ’s? Do we believe that the Holy Spirit is our most powerful defender in this case? Do we consciously invoke him in faith? Do we consider the Holy Spirit as a personal friend; does he seem to be close or far away? Do we experience his presence, protection, guidance and enlightenment?
6.  A Prayer
Risen Lord, we do believe in your promise to remain with us permanently through another companion, the Holy Spirit. You fulfilled your promise when you breathed your Spirit after your resurrection. Thank you for your wonderful plan to give us such a powerful defender and protector. Grant that we may feel his presence and experience his guidance in God’s ways.  Amen. 

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)

Fifth Sunday of Easter [Jn 14:1-12]
14 May 2017
Jesus the Way to the Father
Readings: (1) Acts 6:1-7 (2) 1 Pet 2:4-9
1.   Theme in brief:
As revealer of God’s love and life Jesus is the way to God
2.  Focus Statement:
Jesus is the medium (or the way) for us to know the Father really as he is, because through him now we have access to the revelation of the Father’s unconditional love and gift of supernatural or divine life.
3.  Explanation of the text
According to John’s gospel, Jesus prepares his disciples to face his impending ‘departure’ (technically, his passion and resurrection) from this world at his Last Supper with them. When he finishes washing their feet, he tenderly addresses them as “little children,” and plainly admits that he will be with them “only a little longer” (13:33). This statement must have confused and saddened them. Today’s gospel looks like his ‘Farewell Speech’ in which he counsels them not to let their hearts be troubled or worried. At a time of such feelings, he advises them to believe in God and believe also in him (14:1). As per the meaning of “believing” in John’s gospel, we can understand that he advises them to overcome fears and anxieties with total trust in the Fatherly care of God and with a personal attachment to him (his Son) and his promises.
There is an added reason why they should not let such feelings overtake them -- his departure is for their own good, or for their own sake. Its purpose is to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house, that is, heaven (14:2). From there, he will “return” afterwards to take them to that “place” so that they may be where he is (14:3). This is a reference to his Second Coming (called Parousia). Thus, his relationship with them will go on for ever. If they can trust in this promise, their anxieties will be toned down very much. He speaks of heaven as his Father’s house with many ‘dwelling places.’ This should be symbolically understood to mean the Father’s large-heartedness to embrace in his heart all those who place their trust in him. God is neither selective nor exclusive; there is plenty of room in his heart.
One of the disciples, Thomas, expresses his ignorance of both the place where Jesus is going and the way to reach there (14:5). It is something like not knowing even the address of the place, let alone the route to reach there. In answer, Jesus emphasizes his role as the one who not only shows the way to the Father but also as the way itself. How and why he is the way? He is the way leading to the Father precisely because he is the truth and the life of the Father (14:6). In him God’s attributes of truth and life are in their fullness, because he is in the Father and the Father is in him (14:11).
Truth refers to Jesus' role as the revealer of the full truth about the Father; that is, who God really (actually) is and to what extent he loves us. In other words, he is the complete revelation of what the Father is like. Life refers to his role as the one who shares or gives divine life to anyone who ‘believes’ in his name. In other words, he brings God's gift of divine life to the ‘believing’ world. Thus, Jesus becomes the way to God by revealing to us the true nature of God (thus removing our ignorance about his true love) and sharing with us his divine/supernatural life. In simple terms, Jesus becomes the medium (or the way) for us to experience the truth of God’s unconditional love and God’s supernatural or divine life. He is also the medium through which we can reach our final destination (that is, heaven). To put it differently, Jesus is the way (or the gate as we find in Jn 10:7) for us, because through him now we have access to God’s true nature (that is, unconditional love) and God’s own divine life.
Philip’s request to Jesus to show them the Father, whose vision will satisfy them tremendously (14: 8), brings out his earnest desire for the vision of God which a disciple needs to possess. This desire perhaps would be a remedy for their troubled hearts. It becomes clear from Jesus’ answer, since he and the Father are one, those who “believe” (= put their trust in him) really encounter God in their encounter with him (14:10-11). A deep faith necessarily produces good works and a closer and deeper and deeper union with Jesus in future can produce greater works than what we are doing now (14:12).
4.  Application to life          
All of us have our fears and anxieties generated by thoughts of being attacked by an enemy, killed in a bomb blast or accident, left alone in old age, ridiculed and rejected by others, becoming victims of dreadful sicknesses like cancer and heart attack, or natural/ man-made calamities (like accidents, floods, earthquakes, cyclones) and untimely or sudden death. There is a fear of the unknown future in all of us always lurking in our subconscious minds. Some of the frightening events such as riots, wars, terrorist attacks, rapes, and natural calamities bring so much tragedy, confusion and sadness to our lives. It is natural that our hearts get troubled or worried at those moments. In these situations, Jesus calls us to heed to his advice given to his disciples at the time of his departure from this world.
The first remedy Jesus suggests for a troubled heart is a deep and unwavering faith or trust in God and in his goodness, in his promises. The question is: Do we try to overcome fears and anxieties with total trust in God’s providence or care? Jesus invites us to believe in the healing power of faith in such trials – a power which can calm down or quieten our troubled hearts. As Jesus says in other places, faith can ‘move mountains’ and ‘uproot deeply rooted trees’ (cf. Mt 17:20; Lk 17:6; Mk 11:23). What it means is a strong faith has the power to walk through mountainous anxieties or problems and uproot deeply-rooted bad habits or addictions (like ‘trees’). Of course science cannot prove this. If we need any proof, we need to listen to the testimonies given by persons like those who came out of their alcoholism or any other addiction, or sinful life and got reformed. To become persons with an untroubled heart, we need to have a strong and living faith in the Risen Lord.
The second remedy proposed by Jesus is our hope in the promise of Jesus that he has gone ahead of us to prepare a place for us in heaven, and his desire to take us where he is. He has gone before us precisely for this purpose. He has told us that we must trust his promise as true; if not he would not have made such a false promise. What a brotherly concern for us! What a consolation and privilege to know the relationship we established with him at the time of our baptism will go on for ever, unto eternity. When we think how safe we are in his hands, our anxieties can settle down to a state of quietness and inner peace. As we fix our eyes on that eternal abode, we get courage to face the troubles of this life. St. Paul tells us that “sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). We need to make a habit of repeating these words in mind whenever our hearts are troubled with worries and over-anxiety.
Even though we have advanced in our faith-journey for so many years, still all of us are sometimes quite ignorant about God’s ways and designs or signs of his love and care as we notice in Thomas, according to today’s gospel text. Though we believe in the Risen Lord’s all-powerful presence in all situations, when trial comes we behave as if we walk alone in our confusion and anxieties, and forget that there is a Divine Companion who walks with us in all situations of our life’s journey. The moving story of travellers to Emmaus in Luke’s gospel tells us that we are always walking with a friend and a fellow traveller like us in our faith-journey, who is no other than the Risen Lord. He has assured us that he not only shows the way to the Father but personally walks with us. He not only tells us the address and direction to reach God, but personally accompanies us in our journey towards that goal. As the Risen Lord, he is not restricted or limited to one place or time, but is present in all situations, in all the ups and downs of life. He is like a shepherd who himself becomes the gate by sleeping at the only entrance of the sheepfold, as was the custom in his cultural milieu (10:7).
As we have noted in the explanation of the text, Jesus not only shows us the way to the Father, but he is the way itself. When we go to a new place and do not know the way or direction to a particular spot, we normally ask others how to reach there. Most people give us directions like going straight, then turning to left or right, etc. But we forget what they say. Occasionally, we meet somebody who not only shows the way but accompanies us, telling us that he or she is also going to the same place. This is what Jesus does to us with his promise of taking us to the Father. Jesus is the way to meet, know and reach the Father. He is the way to meet and reach peace and happiness. To know Jesus is to know God. He is the embodiment of God’s nature and character. He himself becomes the way to God: to see him is to see God; to obey him is to obey God; to love him is to love God. There are so many other ways to achieve satisfaction and happiness in life: ways of the world such as ways of comfort, convenience, egoism, violent ways to achieve one’s aim, etc. These ways try to achieve success, name, power and wealth through bypass methods – bypassing the cross. We have to choose between Christ’s way and world’s way. Jesus’ way is the way of self-sacrifice or sacrificial love, humble service even to the lowliest, compassion and forgiveness. Among the many ways to reach God shown by Jesus the most touching is the way of the cross or attaining glory through the cross. Our call and goal is to walk on this way and we are sure to reach the Father.
The problem is not that many walk on the wrong way but they do not have a definite way (or purpose of life) they choose for themselves. They prefer to blindly walk the alluring and attractive path of the world or follow the fads and whims of the world. Just imagine where or to which direction the ways of the world will lead us and where the way of Jesus will lead. As a Christian, what is the way we have decided to walk as our life’s purpose?
There are different ways to reach God shown by other faith traditions, gurus and founders of religions. Our personal faith that Jesus is the only way to God may sound offensive to followers of other religions, especially in the multi-religious context of Asia. When people ask questions about the uniqueness of Christ’s way, we should restrain from imposing our personal faith (to which we adhere) on them by arguments or by comparing Christ to their Supreme Being or gods. Instead, we should be able to testify how we can find a reflection of our own life’s struggles and problems in the life of Christ, which makes his way very attractive to us. When people of other faiths ask me such questions, without downgrading their faith and after showing due respect to their religious views, I say: “I find meaning in the way of life shown by Christ for the following reasons: Though he was innocent, he willingly took upon himself all our sufferings, humiliation and death. When he was totally rejected by all on the cross, he too felt like us that even God had abandoned (forsaken) him. When we undergo unbearable suffering, when our prayers are not answered and when we feel the absence of God, we too can cry out with Jesus in the same way he cried out from the cross in the midst of unbearable suffering: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ (Mt 27:46). This example attracts me immensely to follow Christ. Now I follow Christ out of my personal choice, though at first I became a Christian because of my parents. After all, adult faith is a matter of personal attraction, personal choice and one’s own conscience”
5.  Response to God's Word
Does our faith sustain us in our troubles? Is our faith a matter of going through only some rituals, or a great source of influence on our thinking, choices and behaviour? Which words of Christ or example influence you? Though you became a Christian in the beginning because of your parents, today why do you choose to be a Christian? Is it just because you were born in a Christian family, or you have your personal reasons? Are you able to explain to a well meaning friend of another religion why you follow Christ, when he/she sincerely asks?
6.  A Prayer

Jesus, we believe that you are the way, the truth and the life. In the midst of troubles and anxieties, we put our trust in you and your way. We believe your power can calm down and quieten our troubled hearts; can move mountains of anxieties and uproot deeply-rooted worries in us. You are the way to meet, know and reach the Father. We regret for the times we chose the way of the world instead of yours and thus remained cut off from the gift of divine life which you offer. Grant that we may remain faithful to your way. Amen. 

Friday, 5 May 2017

Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)

Fourth Sunday of Easter [Jn 10:1-10]
07 May 2017
Jesus the Good Shepherd
Readings: (1) Acts 2:14.36-41 (2) 1 Pet 2:20-25
1.Theme in brief:
The characteristics of the Good Shepherd and his faithful sheep
2. Focus Statement:
The Risen Lord who is our Good Shepherd knows us intimately, leads us and gives us life in abundance; in order to remain as his faithful sheep we must listen to his voice, and not that of strangers.
3. Explanation of the text
In this passage Jesus contrasts his role as the Good Shepherd with the misleading role of Pharisees and other false or evil leaders of Israel (both religious and political). Though the words thieves and bandits (used for them) sound offensive and a sweeping generalization (10:1, 8), they should be understood in the context of the prevailing incidents of stealing the sheep at night from the sheepfold by robbers in Palestine. This figure of speech refers to irresponsible and selfish leaders who are interested in feeding themselves than their flock – as if stealing from them what is their right. In the previous chapter, we see how the Pharisees stole human dignity from the man born blind (after he got healed) by excommunicating him from the synagogue due to their refusal to promote human welfare (9:34-35).
By custom, the sheep in Palestine were sometimes kept at night in a sheepfold which was simply an enclosure of a high wall without any roof. The shepherd used to sleep at the only entrance or gate. Naturally, the ‘thieves and bandits’ who came to steal the sheep at night could not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climb in by another way (10:1). This perhaps refers to the false way of the misguiding leaders (mainly Pharisees) in contrast to Jesus’ way of truth.
This passage has its background in the OT, in which the leaders of Israel, especially the kings are called shepherds. Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel pronounce God’s condemnation of the evil rulers of Israel who are called false shepherds (Jer 23:1-2; Ez 34:1-10) and proclaim his promise to appoint faithful shepherds to tend his flock after his own heart (Jer 3:15), since God himself is the shepherd par excellence. In this passage, Jesus is claiming such a role for himself to tell us that God himself has come to shepherd his people through his ministry. Jesus’ self-sacrifice for his sheep stands out in stark contrast to the selfish and harassing religious leaders.
The shepherding role of Jesus has the following characteristics: (1) calling the sheep by name which implies his intimate relationship with his followers (10:3); (2) leading them out and going ahead of them which implies his work of guiding and showing them the right way (10:3, 4); (3) giving them freedom to come in and go out through him so that they can be saved; and (4) leading them to green pasture (10:9). Here again, there is a reference to the Shepherd Psalm according to which the Lord makes his sheep "lie down in green pastures," leads them "beside still waters," and prepares a table for them (Ps 23:2, 5). In John’s gospel this refers to the Risen Lord’s role of nourishing the faithful with the Word and the Bread of Life (cf. chapter 6).
The characteristics of the faithful sheep are: (1) listening to, recognizing and knowing the voice of the shepherd (10:3, 4-5); and (2) following the shepherd and not the strangers because of their unfamiliar voice (10:5, 8). The sheep can discern between the Shepherd’s voice and the stranger’s.
Jesus uses another metaphor by calling himself as the gate for the sheep (10:7, 9). Here he applies the custom of a shepherd sleeping in the entrance of the sheepfold to his own role of saving the sheep by protecting them from the raiding enemies (= false teachers). At the end Jesus contrasts his role to give protection, freedom and pasture to his sheep with the stealing, killing and destroying role of the thief. The mission for which he comes into the world is to give his ‘sheep’ (= those who believe in him) a share in the divine life, not in a little measure but in abundance (10:10).
4.  Application to life                     
Today’s gospel text, given in the context of Easter Season, invites us in the first place to experience the shepherding role of the Risen Lord. He is constantly with us, leading, guiding and showing us the right way. He leads us by showing us the path of service, sacrifice, unconditional forgiveness, acceptance of sufferings, etc. He opens the gate of freedom or salvation from sins for us and nourishes us with the green pastures of his Word and the Bread of Life. The custom of naming the sheep or cattle and calling them by their names – followed by shepherds/ herdsmen/ cattle-grazers in many cultures even today – implies that the Risen Lord’s relationship with us is so intimate that he knows each one of us by name. By calling himself as the gate for the sheep, he tells us that he constantly saves us by protecting us from the false teachers, misleading guides and bad companions.
In the midst of so many life-negating factors in today’s world that steal, kill and destroy life, Jesus shares his divine life with us in abundance. Abundance of life means the abounding and overflowing quality of life and grace which Jesus came to give (Rom 5:20). It connotes the qualitative change that faith can bring in the life of a disciple. Better quality of life does not mean better food (such as fast food and instant coffee), better facilities, latest gadgets, plenty of fun and power.  It does not mean abundance of possessions, funds and motor vehicles either. Nowadays we are saving a lot of time due to electronic gadgets but are less available for others than before; hence, the quality of our life is dwindling. Abundance of life also means the abundance of God’s qualities or God’s thoughts such as patience, peace, compassion, self-sacrificing love, etc.  Quite often we neither experience emptiness of life, nor the abundance of it. We are in between. Imagine the quality of love, service, care, compassion, attention, time and energies we should or could have given or spent for the needy, but did not. If this is the case, are we not guilt of a wasted life?  As believers, is life for us a mere existence or a life full of zeal and enthusiasm for God’s values and way of thinking? A person without enthusiasm and zest for life merely exists, does not really live.
Jesus warns us that there are many ‘thieves and bandits’ who “steal, kill and destroy” life (10:10) in our life’s journey. Human life is precious but fragile; full of promises but constantly threatened by anti-life forces, such as sorrow, suffering, massive poverty, hunger, disease and death. In modern times, human life is constantly threatened by wars and riots (religious, ethnic, political), abortion, euthanasia, international terrorism, religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, racism, threat of nuclear wars, horrible accidents, environmental destruction or degradation, etc. First of all, these can be considered as the ‘thieves and bandits’ that “steal, kill and destroy” life. Hence, "abundance of life" promised by Jesus the Good Shepherd directly contradicts the fragility and vulnerability of life or the scarcity of life, since it is everywhere plagued by countless misdeeds and acts of cruelty by humans. Sad enough, many people experience the emptiness of life rather than its abundance. In the midst of these life-stealing and life-destroying forces, we are called to uphold the supreme value and preciousness of human life and instil hope in the minds of people even in hopeless situations. We are called to be life-givers after Christ’s own heart by our compassion, care, concern, developmental work, eradication of evils, value education, etc.  
Secondly, there are persons and forces in our world that ‘steal the sheep,’ that is, steal our life. In today’s context, they could be irresponsible and selfish leaders who are interested in feeding themselves than their flock. There are some misleading leaders (both in civil society and the Church) who steal what belongs to the sheep. There are forces in the world that steal human dignity and rights and try to prevent welfare of the downtrodden. There are forces (such as the negative side of the mass media) and bad companions who steal character, truth and moral values from us, especially from the youth and the children. Who will become a shepherd to protect these powerless sheep? Those of us who are called to be parents, religious and civil society’s leaders, council and committee members, have to examine ourselves and see whether we are shepherds after God’s own heart, or false shepherds/ leaders/ guides mentioned in prophet Ezekiel’s book: not doing anything to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strayed, seek after the lost, or to prevent our people getting scattered and becoming a prey to ‘wild animals’ such as bad companions, criminals and corrupt forces (Ez 34:4-6).
Broadly speaking, the shepherd-sheep metaphor can be applied to all those who are in a position of leadership in families, society and the Church. Parents, local and Church leaders are like shepherds to their people.  We are more familiar with its traditional application to the shepherding role of Church leaders, such as bishops and priests. But when we apply this image in a  broader way to all leadership roles in the Christian community beginning with the families, we can say that a good shepherd is a father in the family who spends time with his children to guide and direct them; a mother who nurses, cares and supports a sick/ disobedient/ mischievous child; a teacher who teaches not only secular sciences but also human, moral and spiritual values to students; a student who goes out to visit his/her classmate who is absent in the class for many days due to illness; a friend who protects his/her friend from danger and evil habits; a leader who goes out to visit those who don’t come for meetings… As shepherds we are called to promote the life-giving mission (10:10) of our Good Shepherd by nursing, caring, nurturing, respecting, saving, protecting and defending life, especially of the defenceless and the voiceless. In a world where sometimes human life is so devalued we must proclaim the preciousness and dignity of life, and uphold its true value.
Final question is: What type of ‘sheep’ are we – faithful or unfaithful? The qualities of faithful sheep are – listening to and recognizing the voice of the shepherd by becoming familiar with that voice, and following him rather than the strangers. In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene is depicted as a faithful sheep (disciple) who recognizes the voice of the Shepherd ((Risen Lord) immediately, as she hears him calling her by name (20:16).The sheep can discern between the Shepherd’s voice and the stranger’s. There are so many other voices and other ‘false shepherds’ (misguiding or misleading masters and leaders/ bad companions) calling us. They are the strangers whose voices are ‘familiar’ to us in our social life, but are contrary to our Good Shepherd’s. Of course, those voices will be familiar if we are not bothering to familiarize ourselves with the voice of our Good Shepherd by prayer and reflection on God’s Word. Following him means refusing to be easily swayed by the false shepherds of the world.
5.  Response to God's Word
Do we feel that we are constantly under the protection of Jesus our Good Shepherd who saves us from the clutches of false teachers, misleading guides and bad companions? Do we ask for that protection and follow the guidance of our Good Shepherd?? Are we guilty of living a wasted life by not trying to improve its quality? As believers, is life for us a mere existence, or full of zeal and enthusiasm for God’s values and way of thinking? What type of shepherds are we: good or bad, true or false? Do we steal life or promote it; lead or mislead; guide or misguide others? What kind of ‘sheep’ are we – faithful or unfaithful? Whose voice do we listen to and obey? Are we easily swayed by the false shepherds of the world?
6.  A Prayer

Risen Lord, our Good Shepherd, thank you for reminding us that we have to be familiar with your voice and recognize it amidst so many contrary voices of the world. We are sorry for the times we allowed ourselves to be swayed by false and evil shepherds due to our failure to get familiar with your voice through prayer and refection on your Word. Protect us from all false, misguiding and misleading shepherds. We decide today to remain as your faithful sheep by promoting your vision and life-giving mission. In the midst of so many life-negating factors in today’s world that steal, kill and destroy life,  give us the courage and strength to uphold the true value and preciousness of life, especially of the poor and the lowly. Amen.