Saint Vincent Archabbey
Fourth Sunday of Easter,
In this gospel passage, Jesus draws upon imagery associated with sheep herding. The people to whom he spoke were well aware of the practice of herding sheep into a protective corral during the night so that they would not become easy victims of wild animals. They were also aware that robbers could climb over the low wall and steal the sheep. The true shepherd does not need to do this because the sheep are entrusted to his care and he has access to them through the door of the corral.
In the spiritual sense intended by Jesus, the thieves and robbers are those shepherds (pastors, counselors, friends) who claim to be concerned about the sheep (parishioners, anyone of us) but who deceive them by offering quick fixes, which promise salvation without the need of painful personal conversion.
Sheep have always had a reputation for being soewhat naïve and easily confused just as we humans, while very cautious in some areas, are often gullible when it comes to spiritual matters.
Jesus then changes the imagery and calls himself the door to the corral. This means that it is only through the door of his teaching that one can find true salvation. In the same sense, he calls himself "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). His is the only trustworthy way because he teaches the only reliable truth which leads to true and lasting life.
We are great believers in salesmanship and we rely on salesmen even though we know that some of them inflate or misrepresent the benefits of the products they offer to us. This is true also when the product is the most important thing we can imagine, namely, everlasting life and happiness. We are constantly bombarded with promises of eternal salvation without the need to deal with personal problems or deficiencies. We are vulnerable to such offers because we yearn for that kind of security and because these promises are often packaged in very attractive wrappings.
We are told, for example, that if we go through certain external rituals or say certain special prayers we will find salvation in spite of our attachment to selfish behavior.
Or we may be told that reaching an emotional pitch of fervor, which cannot be maintained, will nonetheless guarantee our future happiness. When Jesus says that he alone is the true shepherd and that he alone is the door to security for the sheep, he is telling us that it is only his teaching of unselfish love that will lead us to true life and happiness. Prayers and rituals and fervor are wonderful and necessary, but only when they lead to real conversion from selfish tendencies to genuine concern for others.
Being converted in this way will involve the painful process of facing the truth about destructive addictions and being willing to seek help in dealing with them. It will also mean being honest about one’s prejudices and striving with God’s help to escape from their dangerous influence. But most of all, it will mean trying to be a caring, thoughtful, generous person. This is the path on which the good shepherd leads us for he has come, not to deceive us, but that we "might have life and have it more abundantly" (v.10).
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.
Fourth Sunday of Easter,
John 10: 11-18
The image that Jesus uses of the Good Shepherd verses the hiring is one that is easy to picture. It is a beautiful image of how Jesus looks upon each of us. He is the good shepherd who cares for us, searches for us when lost, and protects us from harm. He is not a hired hand who works for pay and lacks a personal connection with the sheep. Jesus loves us and it is the total, pure and unconditional love that he gives us that is at times difficult to accept, for most love we experience or express is tainted with the struggles and imperfections we have with totally loving without conditions. Hopefully we are not at the level of the hired hands, but we struggle to accept and to give that perfect love of Jesus.
On one of our College Service trips the students and I stayed at the home of a young couple with several young children. The couple were a beautiful example of a holy family in how they related to one another, prayed together and obviously loved each other. One day the wife told our students of how it dawned on her what truly love is. She had a successful careers, and worked for a company that was very much into affirming their employees. Company memos regularly were sent out that included commending some employee for a job well done. She got use to these pats on the back for everything she did.
She stopped working when they had their first child. This was a very dramatic shift for her, and she shared how on one day, with a two year old and a new born, she was trying to cook dinner for her husband and some guests.
The baby started fussing and wouldn't stop crying, and the baby's crying woke up the two year old from her nap and she was cranky and into a tantrum mode. She was busy giving both attention hoping to calm them down, as well as to keep her eye on dinner. Finally, things settled down, the two year old went about playing, the baby fell back to sleep, and the dinner was almost ready. She paused and thought to herself, “I just did a great job, where's the pat on the back?, where's someone to tell me what a great job I did? There was no one. As she thought about this it dawned on here that when she worked the affirmation was good, and was expected. As a wife and mother she wasn't doing these things for affirmation, she was doing them out of love. When we do things out of love we aren't looking for affirmation. It's not about what we get out of it, but rather the love we have that moves us to give of ourselves.
A few weeks ago when we recalled the Passion of Jesus there were no words of affirmation to Jesus as he hung upon the cross. Now one was saying, “good job, Jesus,” No one was patting him on the back. The crowds were yelling' “Crucify him,” and the soldiers were scourging and beating him. Jesus didn't suffer for us so that he could be affirmed, he suffered and died for us because he loves us.
This is the Love we celebrate during the Easter Season. It is the Love of God that conquered sin and death and is freely given to us. It is the Love shown in the Good Shepherd. It's the love we are called to make out own so as to serve God and one another. It is not like a hired hand waiting to be paid, but as the Good Shepherd, not seeking anything, but only loving.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.