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Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 21, 2024


"I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd." (Jn. 10:14-16)

Belonging can be elusive, whether in your family, friends’ circles, church environment, society, or even in your own skin. The right to be a part doesn’t always feel like a given.

Today, being canceled is considered a worst-case scenario by some. They live for the ‘likes’, subscribes, and follows. Yet these indicators don’t reflect authentic belonging, acceptance, or approval but mark how well one has tickled the fancy of the fickle crowd.

I recall a couple of times in life when I basked in the glory of the popular crowd, chillin’ with my ‘it’ friends, in the know, and everything was everythang!  Inevitably though, those times flowed into dark periods of loneliness and despair, where a warm heart or listening ear weren’t obvious.

Even in church environments, the same dynamics may exist—the cool kids rule, and those on the margins stay there. How consoling Jesus’ words are: “I have sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice.” No matter how I feel outside the fold, His beautiful voice calls, cool kid or not, and I can choose each day to hear and respond in faith and love.

The earliest disciples’ understanding of belonging was narrow. This fundamental doctrine required development and expansion over time. Initially, only converted Jews were included in Christ's mission and ministry. His command was clear throughout the gospels: “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mt. 10:5-6, Jn. 4, Mt. 15:23, Mt. 28:18-20).


Noteworthy, though, is Jesus’ lifetime of extraordinary service to marginalized people and groups. The Wise Men (Mt. 2:1 -12), Centurian (Mt. 8:8; Lk 7:2), Man Possessed (Mt. 8:26 – 34; Lk 8:26 – 39; Mk 5:1 – 20), Syrophoenician Woman (Mt. 15:22; Mk 7:26), Samaritan Woman (Jn 4:1), Cleansed Leper (Mk 1:40-45).

After the Great Commissioning of His disciples, Gentiles were formally ushered into the fold. “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt.. 28:18-19).

Many generations have passed since the Lord’s command to make disciples of all people. For our part, the Church continues in its evolution toward a fuller understanding of the extraordinary embrace of Christ. Whether migrants, black and brown folks, those divorced, homeless, or queer, we are all part of the fold, even if we feel like the other fold.

The modern Church contends with powerful forces: politics, media, bias, and fear. But our Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Though the Church is scattered and fragmented in every way, Jesus’ death and resurrection ever hearkens us back into one flock with one Shepherd. He shows us how to follow Him along the royal road.  

We/I must lay down our/my own petty biases and resentments against one person and group at a time. Jesus’ High Priestly prayer reminds us, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. (Jn 17:21-23)


Author: Valerie Ramos serves as an RCIA catechist and coordinator of St. Josephine Bakhita Black Catholic Ministry at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Elk Grove, CA. She has been married for 38 years, is the mother of 3, and is the grandmother of 2. Valerie is enrolled in the Certificate in Contemporary Black Catholic Spirituality Program through the Center for Religion and Spirituality at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA.

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