Audio: click here
Good Shepherd Sunday – World Day ofPrayer for Vocations – Ordained ministry (priests & deacons),Religious Life in all its forms, Missionary life, societies ofapostolic life, secular institutes.
I am sure that many of us in thischurch have grown to appreciate dark or semi-sweet chocolate. Iremember as a kid, when mom would make chocolate chip cookies, shealways used toll house semi-sweet chocolate chips, and I whenever Ifound an open package in the cabinet, I would sneak a few into myhand and enjoy them. I guess that's how I became a fan of thebittersweet type of treat. Well, maybe it's a loose connection, butit seems to me that the Gospel always carries a tinge of bitternessthat ultimately is swallowed up in sweetness. Today brothers andsisters, we have a summary of the Gospel message in Saint Peter'sspeech in the first reading. The bitterness of the Gospel is that wehave sinned. Peter, speaking to the Jews of Jerusalem on the day ofPentecost, says “you crucified the Lord of Life!” The sweetnessthat overpowers it is the Jesus, the Lord of Life, has conquered sinand death and we can be freed from our slavery by repentance. Likethe flotation device on the rope that is thrown out to one caught inthe river above a cliff, salvation is offered to us, and we mustchoose it if we are going to escape our terrible plight.
The image given us today from our Psalmand Gospel (and alluded to Peter's letter) is a powerful summary ofthe Gospel. God is a shepherd. King David, who wrote Psalm 23, washimself a shepherd., and Jesus, most likely a carpenter by tradebefore he turned 30 and was baptized by John to begin his preaching,calls Himself the Good Shepherd – a shepherd of souls not of fluffyanimals.
Jesus Himself says that the shepherdlays down his life for the sheep, and this is more than just ametaphor. In ancient times in Israel, and probably often stilltoday, shepherd guide their sheep through the countrysides, leavingtheir family and friends behind, and devoting themselves completelyto their sheep. Often they would bunker down for safety in caves,and this is (by the way) exactly how the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. If needed, the cave protected from the rain (and lightning) as wellas the blistering heat of the day. But most importantly, it was away of guarding and protecting the flanks of the sheepfold. You see,in a field, a shepherd cannot protect the sheep from every directionat the same time. Wolves, who often attack in multiple directions atonce, are difficult to keep away no matter how long your shepherdstaff is. But in a cave, all a shepherd needs to do is protect thegate, the cave entrance. And at night, or when it is time for thatever-savory afternoon siesta during a hot day, what does the shepherddo? He lays down in front of the cave entrance. He says, with thissimple gesture, “if you want to get to the sheep, you gotta gothrough me.” And didn't Jesus do exactly that? He placed Himselfbetween us and the evil that came for us. The Cross is not ametaphor – it is the Good Shepherd dying for His Sheep. The Lambof God (to turn flip our image around) takes away our sins by freelyoffering His life for us. And then, in the Resurrection, he returnsalive to claim us for Life eternally. Thus the bitterness isswallowed up in sweetness and joy.
However, we must not forget the wordsof Saint Peter: Repentance is essential. Baptism is a testament to alife of repentance, and as Christians we are never finished growingin our role as disciples of Jesus – learning from Him what our lifeis to look like.
“I came so that they might have lifeand have it more abundantly.” This is life abundant: to know Jesusintimately – most especially in a pure heart and in the Eucharist.