Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Good Shepherd

(4th Sunday of Easter, B)

Each year on this middle Sunday of the seven Sundays of the Easter season, the gospel we proclaim invites us to reflect on Jesus the Good Shepherd. It is one of the most beloved and traditional images of our Lord, is it not? But comforting images of Jesus with his sheep and shepherd’s crook aside, in what does Jesus’ good shepherding consist? As we heard the Good Shepherd himself say, it is because “he lays down his life for the sheep.” Unlike the “hired man” who takes care of himself when danger comes, Jesus sacrifices himself to the danger that threatens the sheep in order to save them.

So we see that Jesus as the Good Shepherd is really a way to understand his Passion. Danger threatens the sheep; we all, to one degree or another, live in a world threatened by suffering and misery. This is the plain old ‘problem of evil.’ And Jesus the Good Shepherd—who lays down his life for the sheep—is God’s answer to the misery and danger human sin and stupidity have brought into the world.

You know the standard question: if God is so good; indeed, if there is a God at all, why does he permit such suffering and evil to thrive in the world? Well, first of all, is the suffering in the world God’s fault? No; it’s the fault of individual human sin, much of which has metastasized into structures of injustice in society. And as any parent knows, if you always magically fix the consequences that a child brings upon himself with bad choices, he gets to be spoiled and irresponsible, right? So—on the one hand—this is part of how it is between God and us. On the other hand, though, God has made a definitive and saving response to evil in the world. The trouble for some people is that this isn’t the overt intervention they think God should make; God’s answer to evil and suffering is not a magical fix, but solidarity.

God’s infinite love is moved by human suffering and the cry of the poor, and Jesus in his self-sacrifice becomes God’s response. In his Passion, Jesus unites God himself with the worst we bring upon ourselves and each other with our sins—even to the point of how we disregard, torture, and kill one another.

But here’s the thing: this also unites the infinitely creative power of the divinity of the Son of God—through whom all things were made—into the experience of human suffering. And that means that each of us, in our own pain, alienation, and suffering have access to the power of God. And this power can free us from the effects of sin that hold us down: as individuals, our selfishness, depression, and anxiety, and as a society, poverty and our addiction to violence. This is the mystery we call the Resurrection.

This is how Jesus is for us the Good Shepherd: by laying down his life and suffering with us so that we might find, with him, the path out of sin to new life. The effects of Jesus having shepherded us through the misery of sin to new life are revealed in the first two readings we hear today. The first letter of John proclaims that we are no “children of God.” This is to say that as Christians, we enjoy the same relationship to God the Father as Jesus does. We are caught up into that mystical dynamic of Father and Son, Source and Word—the one unified relationship from which all creation spills forth in superabundance. We become daughters and sons in the Son; our lives and souls gathered into the intimacy of the Blessed Trinity.

And just as Peter proclaims, this new life will give us the power to uncripple ourselves and the world around us, that all creation might be renewed and renovated by the power of the Good Shepherd revealed in the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another outstanding homily my brother who happens to be a pretty good shepherd as well. Now if people would just behave more like sheep rather than wolfs we all be a little happier.