April 25, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 26, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

"I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd
lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11) 
(Click here for today's readings)

Can you imagine rival politicians each making the claim that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd”? They would be laughed out of their party.

What about a doctor? a scientist? a journalist? a police officer? a teacher? an actor? Ridiculous in every case. And even though the clergy are called to imitate Jesus as best they can in their “pastoral” or “shepherding” ministry, not one would dare to declare, “I am the good shepherd.”

Why is this so? Think about it. Why would you react negatively in such a case?

I think part of the answer lies in the implication of absolute trust. We are not prepared to bestow that on just anyone.

It may go even deeper. How many teen-agers or adults do you know who actually want to be led by someone else?

We don’t want to be sheep. I found a definition of “sheepish” which reads: “resembling a sheep in meekness, stupidity, or timidity.” Yes, sheep are proverbially submissive, stupid and skittish. We don’t see ourselves that way, and very likely we are not that way, so why would we need a shepherd?

But the only thing Jesus says about his sheep is this: “I know mine and mine know me.” Everything else he says in this passage is about himself, or about the cowardly hireling shepherd. His point is one thing and one thing only, namely that we are in fact perfectly justified in placing our unfaltering trust in him, because he is ready to die for his sheep.

In the first two readings there are other expressions likewise calculated to inspire trust. St. Peter says, after healing a lame man, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, in his name this man stands before you healed... There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” And St. John writes, “We are God’s children now.”

Most people, at one time or another, have had the unpleasant experience of having their trust betrayed. The deeper the betrayal, the harder it is to trust again.

Jesus gets it. That’s why he talks about hireling shepherds who abandon their sheep to the wolves. Why would the sheep trust any shepherd again after that? The prophet Ezekiel has a ferocious passage in which God condemns the shepherds, i.e., the religious and political leaders, of his people for exploiting the people rather than caring for them. (Ez. 34:1-10). God concludes: “I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest.”

The Good Shepherd offers us ultimate “security,” not in the sense that we will never suffer, or be frightened, or be afflicted by the evil that surrounds us. After all, this is the same Jesus who elsewhere tells us to take up our cross and follow him. But in the midst of it all, we “know” him and he “knows” us.

No priest can call himself the Good Shepherd. I am not the Good Shepherd. I only work for him. Time will tell if I am a spineless hireling or a faithful servant. In the meantime, please pray for vocations to the priesthood. Pray for good priests. Encourage the priests you know. Inspire them to a level of fidelity that is deserving of an equal level of trust.

Psalm 95 includes the following invitation:

Come, let us bow down and bend low,
let us kneel before the Lord who made us,
for he is our God, and we are the people he pastures,
the flock he tends.

The psalmist and those for whom he wrote were neither especially meek, or stupid, or timid. They were not “sheep” in a passive sense. But they rejoiced in the shepherd-like care the Lord had for them.

And so should we.

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