[Homily: HS Chapel. 4.22.13. Based on: John 10: 1-10]
These days we have been considering various texts in our Gospel where Jesus is presented as the Good Shepherd. I think these texts climax in today’s Gospel reading. It has several intertwining images, and we are invited to reflect on each.
The first is the consideration that only the shepherd passes through the gate. The shepherd cares for the flock. Thieves, robbers, and marauders do not. They breach the fence protecting the flock, undermine its defense, in order secretly to plunder the flock. In the absence of the shepherd, they take advantage of the innocence and simplicity of the flock.
The second is that Jesus himself is the Gate. It is an unusual metaphor. It may be helpful to think of security gates in an airport. Jesus is the security Gate that protects the sheep from harm from without. To get to the flock, one must pass through Jesus. This includes “pastors,” some of whom are false. Jesus takes care that they do not approach the flock for selfish purposes, to kill, to hate, to “use”, to mislead. Jesus insists that they do not truncate life, nor diminish it.
The third is that Jesus himself is the Good Shepherd. The legitimate shepherd passes through the gate. Jesus himself is the Gate. He now introduces himself as the Good Shepherd, who comes “to bring life, and to bring life in abundance” (Jn 10:10). He does not come to kill the sheep, as many owners do; he dies for his sheep. He does not come to consume the sheep; he is consumed by the sheep. “Take me, eat me…” (cf: Jn 6) He does not come to ignore the sheep gone astray, but leaves the ninety-nine to find the lost sheep (cf. Mt. 18:12; Mt. 15:24). The Good Shepherd comes “to bring life, and to bring it to the full” (ibid). This truth needs much more appreciation in our community; often, the exact opposite is communicated. Catholic life is characterized as a life ridden with guilt and driven to neurosis; but Jesus did not come to bring guilt, he came to expiate guilt. His message was not: “It is a sin.” His message was, “You are forgiven.” That is a message of relief and liberation. Too often, Catholic life is presented as sad, bereft of pleasure and joy; but the “abundant” and “full” life is filled with joy, even when, in its fullness, it is demanding, and impossible without the Cross. Jesus disclosed his Good News to us that our joy might be full, and that our joy might be complete (cf. Jn 15:11).
The fourth image is that the sheep follow the Good Shepherd because they know his voice. That is a huge challenge that we face in our world today: to recognize the voice of Christ. That begins by listening to him. He speaks of the abundant life. He speaks of the full life – with a credibility that is in fact stronger that that of expensive commercials, persuasive companions, and tempters with luscious apples. It involves searching the Scriptures and being docile to the teachings of the Church. It involves “time wasted” on being with the Lord, where I do not barrage him with my needs, but open myself to his need.
In all these images, we know that human beings are not just stupid sheep. With bombs exploded intentionally in a Boston marathon race, and engineered plants genetically modified so that they cannot be reproduced by the poor, sometimes it seems they are not just stupid, but evil, bringing evil on all. Following the voice of the Shepherd where private interest overpowers the common good takes savvy, courage and grace. Often, certainty is elusive, and commitment to the morally imperative or the discernably more loving is unwelcome in a hostile world. But it is precisely in this context where the Gospel message is so relevant. With all of our brilliance, we are often just like dumb sheep, ready for the slaughter. Or worse, ready from a darkness within to injure, to maim, to slaughter. But the Lord presents himself as the Good Shepherd who comes to bring life, and to bring it to the full.