Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Go, humble flock and reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before! Fourth Sunday of Easter 26 April 2015

Go, humble flock and reach where 
the brave Shepherd has gone before!

The Good Shepherd window at the Old Cathedral in Vincennes, Indiana. Photo by John William McMullen.

 Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year B) 2014      
Today’s first reading finds Saints Peter and John in big trouble for performing a good deed, indeed a miracle, in the Name of Jesus on a Sabbath.

Peter and John saw a beggar in need and in the Name above all Names, the Name of Jesus, they healed him and told him to “rise and walk”. How dare them do such a thing without consulting all the proper religious authorities – and to do such a thing on a Sabbath!

Human beings were created to observe the Sabbath, the authorities said to Jesus. But Jesus said the Sabbath was created for human beings! So Jesus knows what that rejection is like. He was forever in trouble with the religious leaders for healing on the Sabbath.

Peter and John are now in the same trouble as was Jesus the good shepherd.

What is so amazing is not so much the miracle as the hard-heartedness and narrow-mindedness of those who are angry that the crippled man can now walk!

Just like the original shepherd, the shepherds Peter and John, are in trouble for living the gospel message. The church is often criticized for its work with the poor and marginalized.

Some people often only regard the church as the pope and bishops. But we know that the church is far greater than simply the men in who called to be our shepherds.

Yes, the pope and bishops are to shepherd us, and have Jesus as the Good Shepherd as their model to follow, and we are obliged to hear their voice and follow their example.

The good shepherd is one who knows his sheep, protects them, defends them, cares for them, and is willing to lay down his life for them. This is the kind of shepherd the faithful recognize as a servant-leader.

Christ formed the Church as His Living Body on earth and the Soul of the Body of the Church is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit urges us on to love as Christ loves! Our faith is about authentic relationship with God and with one another.

Our faith in Christ is far more than following a list of rules and knowing what NOT to do. As one of my students said of a fellow teacher: “She is really good at telling me what I cannot to do, but why doesn’t she focus on what I can do? Or let me know when I am doing well?”

We all long for authentic Christian lives as examples to follow. But when we see some Christians more concerned with outward appearances than with the gospel, more concerned about rules than about love and mercy, more concerned with law than about justice, I can see why some people have become disillusioned with the Church or religion.

If a church community ceases to be the living presence of Jesus to a weary world, then it can become an obstacle to faith in Jesus.

So when we gather as church, as the body of Christ, the church as the visible presence of Jesus in the world.

And if we are living that reality, then the Church must be like her Lord, human and vulnerable as was Jesus the Good Shepherd when he humbled himself to share in our humanity. Jesus was rejected and cast away, crucified as a common criminal. In fact he laid down his life in death so that you and I might live!

Yet today we are called to allow ourselves to be shepherded by the Good Shepherd who was rejected.

But most people in Jesus’ day would say that there was no such thing as a good shepherd. They smelled bad, many were thieves, and would run off at the first sign of a wolf or predator, leaving their sheep vulnerable to attack. In other words, they were the outcasts of all outcasts in society. 

But recall that the angels first appeared to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, he who would be the Lamb of God, so it is an appropriate metaphor, and therefore we cannot so easily dismiss the shepherd image.

Jesus was cast off, but he insists: “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.”

Perhaps we think it beneath our dignity to be called sheep, yet Jesus himself humbled himself to share in our humanity and is called the Lamb of God. The last time I checked, a lamb is a sheep. And now he is the Good Shepherd. We are in good hands as His sheep.

We stand for human life. We stand for the underdog. We stand with the vulnerable. We stand for the powerless, the voiceless, the downtrodden, and, yes, we even stand with those who get themselves into terrible situations, for Jesus came to seek and to save what was lost!

There are no disposable stray sheep for the Good Shepherd and so it must be that way for the Church! If we are God's children, and we know that we shall be like him, then each of us must be prepared to shepherd souls into the pasture of God’s Kingdom.

There are no prodigal sons or daughters so far gone that we write them off as losses, there are no lost sheep that we can write off as losses for tax purposes! Christ died and rose for each and every member of the human family!

I know how easy it is to drive around town and see people who look so haggard, so ragged; their face is blemished and they are missing teeth and we say “there’s another meth-head” or “there’s trouble.”

But Christ the Good Shepherd would have us say, “There is one of my least ones. There is one of my children, created in my image and likeness! Ah, he may look like a lump of coal, but he is a diamond in the rough. It is for you to go find him, not judge him.  Go, humble flock and reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.

Or “There is one of my lost daughters of Eve. I know she looks like a slimy oyster, but within is a pearl of great price. Go seek the pearl, and do not judge. Go, humble flock and reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.

God our Father, we are the sheep of your pasture, the sheep you have redeemed by your Precious Blood of the Lamb, of God, the True Lamb who has taken away the sins of our world; The Lamb, once slain, who lives forever, your Son Jesus Christ, the True Shepherd of our souls!

Lead us, Lord – no, compel us, Lord – to take your message of mercy to where no one else wants to go; to go out in search of the sheep who think they have no shepherd, the sheep who have lost their way; to the sheep who are in places and situations where they can no longer hear the Shepherd’s voice, and let them know that there is a Good Shepherd who has laid down his life for them, a good shepherd who wishes for them to come home to His pasture where He can tend to them and nourish them.

Go, humble flock and reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before!