Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 3
John 10: 11-18
The image of the Shepherd given in our Gospel for this Fourth Sunday of Easter is a common image all throughout both the Old and New Testaments. The Hebrew word ra’ha, shepherd, appears some 170 times in the Old Testament. Many of the leaders of the Israelites are referred to as shepherds. Yaweh himself is designated a shepherd in Psalms 23: 1 and 80: 1, as well as in Isaiah 40:11 and Jeremiah 31:10.
In the New Testament the Greek word for shepherd is poimen, meaning pastor or shepherd. Both Matthew (9:36) and Mark (6:34) refer to the spiritual leaders of the people as shepherds. Christ is referred to as the “good or great shepherd” in John 10:11ff and in Hebrews 13:20. In Peter 5:4, Jesus is called in Greek archipoimen, translated “Chief Shepherd.”
Jesus is called the “good” Shepherd to distinguish him from the “bad” shepherds that were around. These bad shepherds were simply into it for the money and really didn’t give a hoot about the sheep or what happened to them. The Good Shepherd, on the other hand, did care a great deal about the sheep and their welfare, would seek them out when they were lost, and even lay down his life for the sheep if necessary. The sheep know and recognize the good shepherd and follow his voice wherever he leads them, while they will flee the bad shepherd. In all of this we see Jesus as the Great, Chief, Good Shepherd of his flock. In the New Testament the followers of Jesus are sheep. In John 21: 16-17, for example, Peter is told by Jesus to tend and feed my flock.
Naming Jesus the Good Shepherd is another way of saying that Jesus is Love. God loves his sheep in all situations and circumstances. God is not able to not love his sheep. No matter what we do or how lost we get, he will never abandon us. We are all so fortunate and blessed to have a God we can call the Good Shepherd who will never leave us. Yet, for one reason or another, we occasionally do leave him and abandon him and reject him. But even at these times, Jesus follows after us until he catches up with us. In spite of ourselves, Jesus is always with us. Let us listen for a moment to the first few stanzas of Francis Thompson’s great poem, The Hound of Heaven:
I fled him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled him, down the arches of the years;
I fled him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter,
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those Strong Feet that followed, followed after.
Let us thank our Good Shepherd over and over again today for his love and care for us, no matter what.
Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter, May 4
John 10: 1-10
In today’s Gospel passage the image of the Good Shepherd continues. Today Jesus tells us he is the gate. In other words, it is Jesus and Jesus alone who provides access to God by being the gate, the mediator between God and humanity. Those who enter through this gate will have life in abundance. We read in the Prologue of John’s Gospel: “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the life of the human race” (1:4). And in John 3: 16, we read: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
Jesus is the gate, the door to the Father. We have said before that after the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden, humanity could not go to the divinity, the finite had no access to the infinite, for reconciliation. But the infinite could come to the finite and so it did through Jesus. In Jesus divinity and humanity are joined in the one divine Person and our reconciliation with God was accomplished in the history of salvation.
Without Jesus we can do nothing. Without Jesus we are lost souls wandering around in the dark. Let’s not let Jesus out of our sight!!
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter, May 5
John 10: 22-30
“The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
Each of us, I would hope, want to be counted as being among those who believe and hear the voice of Jesus and follow in his footsteps. But if we are not careful all of this can become just meaningless sentimentality and words. We remarked not too long ago in one of these homilies that “belief” in Jesus is more than some intellectual agreement or exercise. Intellectual agreement can and often does equal a so-called head-trip. Let’s not think that Jesus can’t see through this stuff. He told us: Not everyone who says yes, yes, Lord will enter the Kingdom but only those who hear my word and do it. The word must go from the head to the heart and then we will get someplace.
“Belief,” we said, means having a deep faith and trust in Jesus and this is the equivalent to surrendering to him. When we are totally dependant on Jesus, when he is in control, when he is in charge, when our wills and lives are turned over to him – then we are his sheep, then we are true followers of Jesus.
Jesus, you know I believe. Please help my unbelief.
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter, May 6
John 12: 44-50
“I came into the world as light.”
Jesus is the light of the world. He came into the world to dispel the darkness of error and sin. He has told us we too are the light of the world. We are to be a people of light and not of darkness. When we are the light, we are the children of God. Light begets light.
It is in the light that we are able to pursue and find the desires of our hearts to be happy and free of suffering and pain, to be free of guilt and shame, to return again to our Creator, to be a people of joy and serenity.
If we are not a people of the light, the Gospel tells us, Jesus does not condemn us, but we condemn ourselves. We condemn ourselves to a whole lot more misery and suffering than we might have if we were children of the light and followed Jesus’ voice.
Being children of the light is surely a challenge. The false gods of this world are all around us and sometimes they are most tantalizing. And sometimes all of us stumble, put out the light and succumb to these things. But in doing so, we should prove to ourselves where happiness, joy and peace really are to be found.
Jesus, you are our refuge and abundant life.
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter, May 7
John 13: 16-20
A few weeks ago, on Holy Thursday, we participated in the Liturgy of the Washing of the Feet following the homily of the Mass. The Gospel read for today’s Liturgy follows the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (John 13: 5-11). As teacher and Lord, Jesus was willing to wash the feet of his disciples; how much more should they be willing to do the same for each other.
This foot-washing is given as a model or paradigm not only of the humble service and love we should have toward one another, but of the self-sacrificing love we should have for each other. This adds another level to the whole thing. Sometimes we wonder how high Jesus can go as a model for us. The ultimate of self-sacrificing love is his death for us upon the cross.
This model of self-sacrificing love doesn’t mean I have to literally die for another. It can be imitated in every aspect of life from small acts of kindness all the way to a true sacrificial death for another. We see this in the life of the Conventual Franciscan Saint Maximillian Kolbe who volunteered to be killed in a prison camp in place of another prisoner who was married and had a family. Another example of this kind of love would be for me to go out of my way to perform a kind act for someone I really don’t care for or whom I resent for something or other. This is not as easy as it might sound when you come right down to it and it is certainly something for us to reflect upon.
Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter, May 8
John 14: 1-6
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I have said many times in these homilies that the above quote about Jesus being the way, the truth and the life has been a real revelation to me and has been one of the most meaningful passages in all of Scripture for my spiritual life. In fact, I believe I can truly say that this verse of Scripture saved my life.
For many years I was into doing things my way and only my way. I thought I had things all figured out. But I figured wrongly. And it wasn’t until I started doing things Jesus’ way that my life became what it is today. It didn’t take very long for me to go from pain and misery to happiness and joy once I let Jesus be the guiding force in my life. I have seen this same thing work for countless other people with the same problem I have. Now I am totally convinced that Jesus’ way, truth and life is the way to go and I hope to keep it that way. Jesus is unique and so is his way to happiness and peace. It is in the living out of this spiritual way, truth and life that we all have access to God, no matter who or what we may be.
Jesus, please continue to show us your way and give us the strength to follow it.
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter, May 9
John 14: 7:14
The Scriptures are all referred to in one word as Revelation. Without the Scriptures we might well come to the realization that God exists, but we surely wouldn’t be able to go much further than that with any degree of certainty. We wouldn’t get too far in our knowledge of the Father without the Scriptures.
But with the availability of the Scriptures, it is another story! Isn’t it just wonderful to know that our God is a God of love, a personal God, compassionate, kind, gentle, caring, eternal, forgiving, merciful, serving, humble? These and many other attributes make our God a wonderful Father and Friend who is only too willing to show us all the way back to himself. One of my favorite hymns is: How Great Thou Art. We sing it often at our Retreat House sing-along toward the end of every retreat. One could say it echoes throughout our home. And well it should! My God, how great thou art!!