The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Homily: 4th Sunday of Easter, Year B

Readings: Acts 4:8-12; Ps 118; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18

We call today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, “Good Shepherd Sunday.” It’s a day in our liturgical year when we especially celebrate God’s great love for us.

Consider again the passage we just heard from John’s Gospel. In it we hear Jesus clearly revealing who He is and how important we are to him: “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” [Jn 10:11].

Jesus doesn’t abandon us in the face of danger; no, He sacrifices Himself. Here Jesus fulfills the prayer of the 23rd Psalm, the prayer of His ancestor, David:  “The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want.” [Ps 23:1]

Yes, Jesus is the Shepherd, and Jesus is Lord. He is the Good Shepherd, the shepherd who goes above and beyond what any other shepherd would do. No sane shepherd would sacrifice his life for his sheep, just as none of us would sacrifice our lives for a pet guinea pig. And yet the difference between a human and a guinea pig is miniscule compared to that between God and man.

Just consider what it means, then, for God to sacrifice His life for us. Yet that’s exactly what He did. This sacrificial act on His part has led some to ask: Is the God of the Christians insane? Is He crazy?

No…Our God is Love. He is a love, not simply beyond our capability, but beyond our understanding. In St. Paul’s words, “He emptied himself” [Phil 2:1] and became one of us to offer His life to save ours. And He did this solely out of love. Do you see the kind of God we have, this Good Shepherd who cares so much for us?

And then, to ensure we get the point of all this,  Jesus turns to us and tells us to love others as he has loved us, to be willing to give our lives for them, even for those the world tells us are beneath us. Our love for God, Jesus tells us, must be mirrored in our love for others.

Remember that wonderful scene [Jn 21] when, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the risen Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Each time Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  To the first yes, Jesus said “Feed my lambs”; to the second, “Tend my sheep”; and to the third, “Feed my sheep.”

Your love for me, Jesus is telling Peter, will be evidenced by how well you tend my sheep, my people, those for whom I sacrificed my life to save.

But Jesus didn’t stop with Peter. He turns to all of us, all of us in the Body of Christ. He doesn’t say, “love me as I have loved you.” No, instead He commands, “love one another as I have loved you” [Jn 13:34]. Like Peter, our love for God will be shown by the love we have for the members of His flock.

As we heard in our first reading, our love for others must be a manifestation of God’s love, and the good that we do must always be done in the name of Jesus Christ. For as Peter proclaimed, “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" [Acts 4:12]. It’s all Jesus Christ, in Jesus Christ, through Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ.

The meaning of this becomes clear in our second reading as St. John tells us, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.”

Children of God…all of us: you and me…
…the poor in need of a meal or a place to sleep
…the Alzheimer’s patient in the nursing home
…the Aids patient clinging to life
…the neighbor undergoing radiation and chemo-therapy
…the prisoner locked away in his cell
…the lonely, the depressed
…all of us, children of God, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.

We are not strangers…for children of the same loving Father cannot be strangers. Brothers and sisters of our Lord, Jesus Christ, cannot be strangers. And so Jesus calls us not simply to love others, but to recognize Him in them, to realize that what we do for and to each other, we do to Him: “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ [Mt 25:40] Yes, we will be judged on our response to this calling as children of God, on this Christian vocation of ours.

Pope Benedict wrote, “As a community, the Church must practice love…The Church cannot neglect the service of charity any more than she can neglect the Sacraments and the Word.” At every level, then — and that includes the parish, the diocese, and throughout the world — the Church must practice love. This is how the Church shows who she really is.

Some years ago on a business trip I attended Mass at the local Catholic Church. (I've forgotten where it was.) Not far from the main entrance to the church I came across a statue of a hooded man begging. Like the hand of the beggar reaching out to Peter in our first reading, the statue’s hand is stretched out toward those who walk by. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that in the middle of that hand is a hole, a nail hole.

Yes, it’s a statue of Jesus, the risen Jesus who still bears the wounds of His love, the Jesus who in humbling Himself became like a slave, like a beggar. For the parishioners and all those who enter that church this statue is a constant reminder to look beyond appearances and see Jesus in all who reach out to them. And for you and me it’s a reminder that Christ has His hand stretched out to us right now.

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