Easter 4th Sunday

(Good Shepherd Sunday)

Acts 13: 14, 43-52                                 Rev. 7:9, 14b-17                       Jn. 10: 27-30



Suffering, caused by self-purification and that is borne for a higher cause, will indeed make us happy than sad.


The Shepherd and the Sheep

Israel was basically a nomadic society. Abraham, their forefather, was a nomad who went from place to place with his cattle. Only when the Israelites got settled down at Canaan, we see that they slowly changed to agricultural way of life. That too was because of the influence of the Canaanites, who were basically agriculturalists. While the Israelites were entering into Canaan, they had to encounter the stiff resistance of the Canaanites. It is against this background, the story of Cain and Abel evolved (Gen. 4: 1-14). Cain, who was an agriculturalist, was the representative of Canaanites, while Abel, who tended cattle, was the representative of the Hebrews.

Now and then Jesus gave some parables to the Jews, reminding them of their past. One such parable is what we see in the gospel today. Jesus compares us to sheep and himself to a good shepherd. In this parable, Jesus mentions various things he does towards us, his sheep. He calls us by name – vs. 3 (which refers to his personal relationship with us), leads us – vs. 3 (i.e. his guidance of us especially during the dark phases of our life), knows us – vs. 14 (i.e. he is aware of what we truly are and he loves us intimately), gathers us together as one family – vs. 16 (i.e. he is keen on creating a better human family by uniting people beyond all human-made divisions), offers us a life of abundance – vs. 10 (i.e. he is interested in our welfare), and finally and most importantly gives his life for us – vs. 11 & 15 (which denotes his sacrificial love for us.) Today we are called to become aware of the tremendous privilege of being the sheep of Jesus, the Good Shepherd par excellence.

Self-Purification and Suffering:

However all these benefits Jesus offers will not be ours if we are not well-prepared. We need to go through a process of self-purification in order to experience the benefits bestowed upon us. Going through a process of self-purification, indeed, involves a lot of suffering. In the second reading, St. John speaks of the multitude of people who had gone through the process of self-purification and suffering. The words “these are they who have come out of the great ordeal” inform us of the suffering they had gone through. The words, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” tell us that they purified themselves of their sins by the blood, shed by Jesus on the cross. It is only those people who are ready for a life of self-purification and consequent suffering, who can experience a life of better happiness before death and a life of eternal bliss after death.

If the second reading talks about the suffering that is caused by self-purification, the first reading speaks of another kind of suffering, that is, the suffering that is borne for a higher cause. We see Barnaba and Paul being persecuted by the Jews for their preaching of Christ – a noble cause. This suffering, once again, instead of making them sad, made them rejoice. Though Barnaba and Paul were persecuted by the Jews wherever they went, they “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”

Suffering and Happiness:

The underlying idea  here is that suffering by itself need not make us sad or unhappy. Though suffering per se involves a certain amount of discomfort and uneasiness, it can also be a contributive factor to our happiness. There are basically three ways of seeing the relationship between happiness and suffering. The first approach is to see them mutually exclusive: ‘Happiness Versus Suffering.’ The basic mindset here is ‘where there is happiness, there can’t be suffering and vice versa.’ Needless to say that this is a very prevalent mindset, though a wrong one. It is from the Epicurean philosophy. It was Epicurus who said that the painless state is the highest good and the state of the gods. Here the problem is that the avoidance of suffering creates more intense suffering later.

The second approach is: ‘Happiness in spite of suffering.’ There are many ‘practical’ people who say, ‘Human life is nothing but a life of suffering. If we are waiting for suffering to cease in order to be happy, then we will never be happy at all. So we need to learn to be happy in spite of our suffering.’ Though this approach is a little better than the previous, it is not a wholistic one since it does not see suffering in a positive light.

The third approach is: ‘Happiness in and through suffering.’ It is the Christian approach and a wholistic one. This is the approach Jesus taught. Suffering is rather a stepping stone than a hindrance to our happiness. Properly approached, suffering can help us to purify and purge us. It can enable and ennoble us. It can elevate and enrich us. It can bring out the best in us, including the joy and happiness in us. That is why the early Christians were happy to the extent they were persecuted.

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