No reason why the bible has a universal appeal and makes for interesting reading to many is because it delivers its message in simple and familiar symbols that catch our imagination and facilitate comprehension of its meaning. However, the bible can be a difficult book if those symbols and figures, in which its messages are couched, recede from popular usage. The necessary task would then be to distinguish the message from its symbol, to pay more attention to the former, or to explain its meaning by using more current and appropriate figures or symbol.
I doubt if the Christians of today are just as powerfully affected by the symbols of shepherd and sheep as were the early Christians. Life then, was more rural and pastoral; such symbols struck a responsive chord in the hearts of those people. But today, life has become more industrial and technological where sheep, lambs and shepherds have no place. How does the teaching of Jesus about his being the Good Shepherd and his followers the obedient sheep ring in the ears of the Christians of Metro Manila, for example? Here, you do not see any sheep being led by a shepherd; all you see are cars, jeepneys, buses and trucks clogging the streets in the most hours of the day.
Even so, the symbols of Jesus as the good shepherd and the Christians his obedient sheep have entrenched themselves in our psyche that we will still find them lovable and appropriate, notwithstanding their diminished visibility in modern life. Thus, through the figures of shepherd and sheep (Jn 10, third reading) Jesus sends the powerful message that he knows and calls each of us by our names and cares for us so that nobody and nothing will snatch us away from him.
We get a similar message in Rev 7 (second reading), when John describes a scene from heaven. An enormous crowd from every race, tribe, nation and language stood before the throne of God, dressed In long robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They will never again hunger and thirst, never again be scorched by the sun or heat because of their Shepherd, the sinless Lamb. Jesus takes good care of all those who had suffers on his account and for his sake.
Finally, Acts 13(first reading) delivers its message without symbols or figures. That is Luke’s writing style. He is direct, factual, and journalistic. He tells us that God decreed to save the world through preaching the word about Jesus Christ. This word was to be addressed first to the Jews because it was to them God first promised his salvation. Then, the word was to be proclaimed to all the Gentiles so that every creature will have the chance to be saved.
Proclamation of the Word being the means chosen by God to save men and women, the question now arises: who are proclaimers of the Word after Christ has gone to heaven and the apostles are already dead? You are correct if your answer is the Church. She has received the Word, and her permanent mission is to proclaim it everywhere and in all ages. All her children have privilege and duty of passing the Word, each in their several ways. Still, the Church needs Christians who will dedicate their whole life exclusively for that purpose.
Aside from being called Good Shepherd Sunday, this Sunday also marks the World Day of Prayer for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. In many places of the world, priests are a very misunderstood people, maligned, underrated or simple ignored. So are women who give themselves to the consecrated life. The media ordinarily do not help clear the air either. They trivialize the calling or publicize scandals. Attention is rarely given to the many who have freely, deliberately and wholeheartedly chosen the life of self-sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel, of proclaiming the Word who descended from the bosom of the Father, and became a man through the Spirit, patiently enduring the frailties of his human nature, the indignities, insults, hatred, persecutions and death by crucifixion, but who rose again. And with the power of his transformed life and of his word, he transformed his followers and will lead them back to their real home in the bosom of the Blessed Trinity. Priests and the religious walk on this journey to God, and help their fellowmen join it.