THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER: The Shepherd Who Leads To Life
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Questions to Ask Yourself
Where is my religion taking me? Do I experience it as leading me somewhere besides heaven? Where am I this year as compared to last year? Did I get there by consciously, explicitly following Christ? In what ways?
Ideas to Consider
The Entrance Antiphon speaks of an active, dynamic God: “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” because “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made” — and are still being made, being sustained in existence by the presence and action of God in the universe.
In the Opening Prayer, when we ask God through “Christ our shepherd” to “lead us to join the saints in heaven,” we are asking him to lead us in the way we live our lives on earth. In the Church’s theological formula, all who are alive are in statu viae: “in the state of being on the road.” Both Vatican II, (The Church, chapter VII) and the liturgy (Eucharistic Prayer III) call us a “pilgrim Church.” We believe Jesus is leading us somewhere. To be Christian is to follow, to move. Jesus is shepherd who leads us.
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 23) focuses on a God who doesn’t just dish up the same old feedlot fare every day, but who constantly leads us into richer religious experiences, into a more fulfilling spirituality — the way a shepherd leads sheep to higher, more nourishing pastures. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”
Acts 2:14, 36-41 identifies Jesus as the shepherd who leads us out of enslavement to a corrupt and corrupting society. He died and rose from the dead so that we might “Repent [accept a complete change of goal and focus in life]…, be baptized…, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...,” and “save ourselves from this corrupt generation.”
1Peter 2: 20-25 tells us that because of his sufferings, Jesus is able to heal us: “By his wounds you have been healed” (and see Matthew 8:16-17). But to be healed we have to follow him as sheep follow a shepherd. If we stay close to him he can keep us safe: “For you had gone astray like sheep, but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” We are healed, not by a one-time jolt from on high, but by a continuous process of following Jesus. This involves: 1. interacting with him, giving him an active part as Savior in everything we do; 2. learning from him as disciples; 3. accepting empowerment from the Holy Spirit to give flesh to his words in action as prophets; 4, loving and ministering to each other as priests in the Priest; and 5. working with him as stewards of his kingship to establish the reign of God on earth. If this puts us on a collision course with society and leads us into suffering with him, so be it: “this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called.”
“Life to the Full”
It is all a matter of what voice or voices we choose to listen to. John 10: 1-10 alerts us that there are all sorts of people offering us role-models and remedies to boost us toward fulfillment; all sorts of guides and gurus proposing themselves as shepherds. How can we know which ads, which programs, which guidelines to believe in; which voices to trust, which crowd to follow? (Or, if we think we are not “followers,” which crowd to run with? It usually means the same thing in practice).
The Gospel directs us to look at what gate the would-be shepherds are coming through. Are they using our desire for money as an approach? Our fear of failure? Our ambition to succeed? Our need to belong? To what in us are they appealing when they hold out their promises? What door, what gate are they holding open for us and inviting us to walk through?
Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will be saved… and find pasture.” Whatever is proposed to us as an object of choice or a course to follow, we should ask whether the basic motivation for it is grounded in values taught by Jesus. We should not expect (or accept) that commercials and advertisements should explicitly base themselves on religious values. That could turn into distasteful fundamentalism or a sacrilegious prostitution of religion. But we ourselves should question and look to see what underlying assumptions support the motivation presented to us. What do the advertisers — and what do our family, friends and business associates — assume we want out of life? What do they think will give us happiness? What do they think will lead us to it? What carrot are the would-be shepherds dangling before us? What stick are they using to compel us?
The bottom line is: “Where are they leading us? What, ultimately, is being promised?” Jesus makes his promise explicit and clear: “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly” — or in the 1980 edition of The New American Bible, “have it to the full.”
Anyone who looks for the fullness of life through association with, interaction with, Jesus Christ will inevitably be a prophet — and probably pay the prophet’s price. But the price buys “life to the full,” both here and hereafter. If “the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”
What is “wanting” to those who follow Jesus? What to those who do not?
Be conscious you are moving. Keep looking ahead to see where you are going, and back to see where you have been.