April 22, 2018 4th Sunday of Easter Fr Jim Miller

Fourth Sunday of Easter
Reading 1 ACTS 4:8-12

Responsorial Psalm PS 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29

  1. (22)The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
  2. Reading 2 1 JN 3:1-2

Alleluia JN 10:14

  1. Alleluia, alleluia.
  2. Gospel JN 10:11-18

Homily—April 21 & 22, 2018

   In the early church, before Jesus was depicted as suffering and dying on the cross, he was depicted as “the Good Shepherd.”  This image was central to early Christian identity.  There are paintings and even statues of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  The cross seems to have been too painful or too inappropriate to be an effective way to portray Jesus.  The Good Shepherd conveyed the Christian message much more clearly.

   In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes seven famous statements beginning with the words “I am.”  Each of them reflects something said about God in the Hebrew Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament.  Yet, of them all, Jesus’ statement “I am the good shepherd” is the only one in which he describes himself with a human role.  When Jesus spoke of himself as bread, light, resurrection, gate, etc.., those descriptions indicated what he offers humankind.  When he said, “I am the good shepherd,” he moved into the realm of his own costly freedom and his mutual relationships with his Father and his followers.

   When Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd he is telling us a lot more than the typical picture that we might perceive of him amid the flock or with a lamb on his shoulders.  First of all, in today’s selection we hear Jesus repeat five times that he lays down his life for his sheep.  Each time this is stated, he emphasizes the fact that it is his choice to do so.  He doesn’t just risk his life or even lose his life, he says he lays it down:  His entire life is for them and for us.  Except for blessing the bread as his body given for his own, Jesus never explained his dedication to his flock more clearly.  In this, he is not only the model shepherd, but the model human being who has discovered the purpose of his life and chooses to fulfill it without reservation.

   In the midst of his five statements in which he offers his life for his own, Jesus describes the heart of his relationship with them saying, “I know mine and mine know me.”  Explaining the depth of what he means, Jesus compares his relationship with his own to his relationship with his Father.  That sort of knowing involves an intimate sharing of life and of such love that the parties come to understand each other from the inside, becoming freely and inextricably bound to one another.  Jesus explains that he has chosen to have an insider’s knowledge of his own and offers the same to them.  

   Before anyone makes a claim to the exclusivity of their tribe or flock’s participation in God’s love, Jesus says that he has other sheep in other folds who share the same relationship with him.  When he says that they will follow and all will become one flock, he is giving a subtle but pointed warning to any who would try to set the boundary lines.  He tells people who pride themselves on being his own—both in his day and in ours—that he is the shepherd.  Membership in his flock depends only on hearing and following his voice; it can’t be defined by rituals or formal membership in any special group.

   The crux of Jesus’ message is twofold:  as the shepherd whose sole desire is to care for the sheep, he shares the essence of his life with them and is willing to give all on their behalf.  By tying his role as shepherd to his relationship with the Father, Jesus indicated that his mission as the good shepherd was not simply to care for the sheep, but to make them like himself by bringing them into his relationship with the Father.

   The best parents are “good shepherds.”  They love all their children equally, and they really mean it when they say, “You are all my ‘favorites’!”  They understand and respect the differences between their children:  Jack loves sports, while Tim is a bookworm.  Sarah is a tomboy, but Mary has a delicate constitution.

   And while it hurts the parents’ hearts to watch, they love their children even when they go astray.   A priest in campus ministry reported he once received a call from a father whose son had gotten into some fairly serious disciplinary trouble.  He was surprised to hear the man say:  “I don’t want to interfere with the college’s disciplinary process, Father.  My son knows that we won’t try to rescue him from the consequences of his own ill-advised choices.  But I do want to be sure that he knows we love him, and we will be there to help him pick himself up when it’s over.”  That is a lucky son, to have that kind of shepherd for a dad.

   What is your relationship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd?  Do you talk to Him every day?  Do you listen to Him?