…at the end of the day, the shepherd gathers the flock into a circular, stonewall sheepfold, and lies in the opening in place of the gate, so that she can be ready to defend the flock against an attack by wolves.
– Sr. Elaine DesRosiers, OP
The readings for the fourth Sunday of Easter cycle A can be found here.
If you are sitting in the pews this weekend you are going to hear a lot about shepherds. The fact that the Gospel has nothing to do with shepherds will not deter the many presenters of homilies and sermons from telling you all about this lowly profession. I suppose that early Christians understood more about shepherds from an organic cultural perspective than we do. I would guess that a modern day equivalent profession could be the migrant farm worker. It is not perfect, but there are many parallels and the cultural imagery evoked by this analogy gives you a sense of how the Johannine community understood shepherds.
The scripture scholar will tell you that there are two separate parables in this Sunday reading. In the first parable Jesus explains that if anybody comes into the sheepfold in any way besides the gate have harmful intent. In the second parable Jesus explains that you will know who the sheep belong to because they only respond to the voice of their shepherd. The Johannine community had many different and competing worship opportunities, not unlike our community today. To make the point abundantly clear John had Jesus say that He was the gate in one of the 45 “I Am” statements that harkens back to Exodus 3:14 when God told Moses “I AM.” In other words Jesus comes from God.
What does all of this mean to us today? What I would like to speak to you about today is the Golden Rule. Right now you may be thinking about that old canard he who has the gold makes the rules. I am talking about treating others as you would want to be treated. If we heard the voice of Jesus and respond because we belong to Him, then we will live by the Golden Rule.
Religion is about behaving differently… Religious doctrines were meant to be a summons to action. You only understand them when you put them into practice… Compassion, the ability to feel with the other, is not only the test of any true religiosity it is also what will bring us into the presence of what Jews, Muslims and Christians call God… When we feel with the other we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and we put another person there. Every single one of the major [religions] has put at the core of their tradition what’s become known as the Golden Rule… Any interpretation of scripture which led to hatred, disdain or contempt of other people, whatsoever, was illegitimate.
– Karen Armstrong
Jesus said “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” If we look around ourselves we can know who responds to the voice of Jesus not by the rosary in their hand, presence at Mass on Sundays, sign of the cross before meals, the scapular around their neck, etc. No, those who respond to the voice of Jesus behave differently that other people. They act with compassion, charity, and mercy. You may not attend Mass every Sunday or pray the rosary, perhaps only at funerals, make the sign of the cross before meals, or even own a scapular but if you have the ability to feel compassion for another person you behave in a way that shows you belong to Jesus.
Very often, secondary goals get pushed into the first place, in place of compassion and the Golden Rule, because the Golden rule is difficult… A lot of religious people prefer to be right rather than compassionate… Religion should be made to be a force for harmony in the world.
– Karen Armstrong
The message of Jesus teaches us how to live on Earth as it is in heaven. Peter Scholtes wrote a song in the 1960’s “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love” while serving as a priest in Chicago. It was so very popular that I am sure you have heard it and probably sung it yourself. I am singing it right now. The message is clear, if you hear and respond to the voice of Jesus others will notice because of your compassionate behavior.
Paulist Press just released an English version of “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life” by Cardinal Walter Kasper. The good Cardinal asks: How can we measure up to the standard of divine mercy in our own actions? What does the message of mercy mean for the practice of the church and how can we cause the central message of God’s mercy to shine in the life of Christians and the church? I think we know the answer, but might be useful to have a copy of the book to help us remember.
I call “charity” the motion of the soul toward the enjoyment of God for His own sake, and the enjoyment of one’s self and of one’s neighbor for the sake of God.
― Saint Augustine (The Four Books of St. Augustine on Christian Doctrine)
If there is one thing you need to take away from this homily it is to love God (wisdom) and to love your neighbor as yourself (compassion). There will be others who jump the fence and enter the sheepfold to offer you the message of hatred and contempt for other people. You know what to do, ignore them because they are not your shepherd. Respond only to the voice of Jesus. When you are approached by haters show them what shepherd you follow by loving them with humble compassion. That is it, simple yet difficult. I din’t say it would be easy.