HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER YEAR C (Good Shepherd/Vocations Sunday)
THEME: LISTEN AND FOLLOW
BY: Fr. Gerald Musa
HOMILY FOR SUNDAY MAY 8 2022
The Nigeria Vanguard Newspaper (April 19, 2022) contains a news story about a school called ‘The Listening School’ which was established by a Nigerian who wishes to build a culture of listening and enhance the art of listening intelligence. The initiator of the Listening School observes that most misunderstandings come from poor understanding and lack of ability to receive and interpret messages accurately. A book titled ‘You’re Not Listening — What You’re Missing and Why It Matters’ (2022) by Kate Murphy concentrates on the subject of listening, which is often taken for granted. Other authors who are deeply concerned about the crisis related to listening are Michael Nichols and Martha Straus, co-authors of ‘The Lost Art of Listening’. These authors believe strongly that listening builds and strengthens relationships.
Attentive listening enables us to follow instructions and directions. Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch and Pisidia for their First Missionary Journey. They preached zealously and courageously to the people. Paul began his preaching with a special appeal: “Fellow Israelites and you others who are God-fearing, listen” (Acts of the Apostles 13:16). Some members of the congregation listened attentively and followed Paul and Barnabas. “The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this (The Gospel) and glorified the word of the Lord” (Act of the Apostles 13:48). They were so happy with the graceful words of these preachers that almost the whole city gathered the following Sabbath to listen to the Gospel. On the contrary, some others listened attentively for the wrong reason. These were other Jews who saw the crowds and were filled with jealousy. They listened attentively but responded negatively to the Gospel. These kinds of listeners are called ambush listeners who listen to a speaker only to get the information they can use to contradict, humiliate, attack or persecute the speaker or preacher. Paul and Barnabas gave a reply to these ambush listeners by saying: “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles” (Acts of the Apostles 13:46). The encounter between Paul and Barnabas tells us that not every listener is willing to be a follower.
Jesus the Good Shepherd calls us to listen to him and follow him. He says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). As a teacher, Jesus had many disciples who learned from his words of wisdom and way of life. As a Shepherd, he requires not only learners but also those who will follow him. We can describe a believer as one who has faith in Jesus, a disciple as one who is intentionally learning and imitating the life of Jesus.
Those who follow him receive special tender loving care. He says, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand” (John 10:28). More so, he is a Shepherd who especially rewards his followers who have passed through and survived all kinds of distress and anguish in life (Revelation 7:14). He shepherds them, leads them to springs of life-giving water, and wipes away tears from their eyes (Revelation 7:17).
William Barclay the prolific scripture commentator thinks there are differences between a follower and a disciple. For Barclay,
“It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple; to be a camp-follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one’s weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, “So and so tells me that he was one of your students.” The teacher answered devastatingly, “He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.” It is one of the supreme handicaps of the church that in it there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.”
This Sunday (the 4th Sunday of Easter) is called Good Shepherd or Vocation Sunday. It is a day set aside to pray for vocations to the Priestly Ministry. While we think and pray for priestly vocations we can as well think of our common vocation as followers of Christ because we are called to follow Jesus. However, we are not called to be dumb followers, but we are called to be:
*Followers who listen to the voice of the Shepherd
*Followers with a sense of direction
*Followers who follow the footpath and lifestyle of the shepherd
*Followers who share in Christ’s mission of love and service
We cannot be good followers unless we are good listeners. Jesus emphatically says, “My sheep listen to my voice” (John 10:27). Jesus does not expect us to be passive listeners but active listeners. Active listening is to be mindful of what he says and make sense of what we hear. Joseph DeVito in his book on building interpersonal communication skills explains four stages of listening, these include: Receiving; Understanding; Evaluating, and Responding. Receiving has to do with getting accurate information, understanding is to know what the speaker means, to evaluate is to judge the message, and response to the message could either be verbally or practically, positively or negatively, immediately or much later.
What kind of listeners and followers are we? Can we count ourselves as those who respond positively to the message of the Gospel or are we ambush listeners seeking ways to contradict the Good News of Salvation? Do we consider ourselves as intimate followers of Jesus or as distant followers?
4TH Sunday Of Easter (Good Shepherd/Vocations Sunday); Acts of the Apostles 13:14, 43-52; Revelation 7:9, 14b-17; John 10:27-30.