LET’S BE GOOD SHEPHERDS TO ONE ANOTHER!
Fourth Sunday of Easter (C)
My dear encountered couples:
I am the youngest of three sons in our family. When I was a young boy my brothers and myself included would tease each other about being “moms favorite son.” All mom had to do was show the slightest bit of partiality to any one of us and the rest would immediately lay claim that he was mom’s favorite…the special child. As we grew older (I became a priest and my two brothers had families of their own), we continued with this sense of humor…once I stopped by her home, she had just cooked a tender, flavorful meat - the aroma of it filled the house, I asked her if Tony was coming over that evening. Pot roast was always my brother’s favorite.
To an outsider this probably doesn’t sound very funny. Yet in our family my brothers and I knew we could tease each other and at the same time realized our parents love for us. I thought of these little snippets from my life as I read an article concerning “Mom’s Favorite.”
The article was about a sociologist researching a new book in which he planned to show the burden, misery and cost to society resulting from large families. He interviewed the mother of 13 children. After taking down information regarding their ages, family income, and other data, he asked, “Do you think all children deserve the full, impartial love and attention of a mother?”
“Of course,” the woman replied. Hoping to catch her in a contradiction, the interviewer continued, “Well, which of your children do you love the most?” She answered without hesitation, “The one who is sick, until he gets well; and the one who is away, until he comes home and the one who struggles with some hurt until he can talk it through.”
A parent’s love for his or her children mirrors the love of the Good Shepherd for us: to love fully and totally, to love regardless of the cost, to love without limit or condition, to love even though such love may not be deserved or appreciated.
I believe the easy aspect of this Gospel is to only feel these words of Jesus as they envelop us… hold us… protect us. If we take them in a literal context we can remain distant, live out lives completely separate from the rest of society, from the rest of the world because after all it is someone else’s responsibility. The reality though is quite different. Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Then he defines what that means; “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away…”
Therein lies the reality of his challenge to model the behavior of the good shepherd. The questions I ask myself and I ask everyone gathered to consider is, “How am I like the hired man? Do I run when the ‘wolf’ comes? - When I become uncomfortable.”
Think about this for a moment; we can charge to the rallying cry of Pro-Life with our bumper stickers… “PROTECT THE UNBORN”… “ADOPTION NOT ABORTION”… “SHE’S A CHILD NOT A CHOICE”… these are great statements of where our faith leads us.
Yet in our hearts we have no forgiveness for a woman who has chosen abortion or can not forgive the medical person who performed the abortion. Or we don’t recognize the full scope of Pro-Life issues, that it is respect for all aspects of life: from the unborn…to the aged…to the sick…to those who are on death row in prison.
I believe this is what Jesus is referring to when he says: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice…” Jesus is leading through all of us. It is within this context of love that we see the servant Jesus in the faces of people we come in contact.
This season of Easter is a time of new life. We are called to celebrate this life by sharing it with everyone. Christ invites each one of us to the vocation of being “good shepherds,” by imitating his image of loving servanthood;
To bring compassion and healing to the sick, the troubled and abused.
To bring back the lost, the scattered and the forgotten.
To enable others to move beyond their fears and doubts to become fully human.
To pay willingly the price for justice and mercy for all members of the “one fold.”
Just as love is shared and grows within a family we readily see the love that Jesus identifies as coming from his Father. His words can be ours in this celebration of life, “…because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.”