Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Good Shepherd

In the section of the Acts of the Apostles that comes just before today’s First Reading, Temple officials and religious leaders have arrested Peter and John for having healed a crippled man. But what really disturbed the authorities was not that the man was healed, but that, because of the healing many people had come to believe in Jesus, through the testimony of the Apostles. Now, they are asked two very direct questions about this event: By what power, and in whose name was the healing performed?

Peter explains clearly and directly that the name and the power are the same: Jesus, who was crucified by these same religious authorities, and who has been raised from the dead by the power of the God of Israel. Peter calls Jesus as the cornerstone rejected by the builders. This is a reference to Psalm 118, which is today’s Responsorial. Peter affirms Jesus as the one and only source of salvation, given to the world by the God of Israel, and rejected by Israel’s religious authorities.

Today’s gospel continues Jesus’ discussion and confrontation with the Pharisees after he healed the man born blind. This man, although he could not see with his own two eyes, had heard the voice of Jesus. Hearing, he believed, and believing, he was healed. The Pharisees, blinded by what they see, are impaired of hearing what Jesus is saying; not hearing, they cannot understand, and not understanding, they are incapable of believing.

In Jesus’ time, there were no sheep dogs. No Bouviers des Flandres, or Collies, or Corgis, or Euskal Artzain Txakurra. The sheep heard the shepherd’s voice, and they followed him. What then of the bad shepherds, who would run away when they heard the wolf howl, leaving the flock to be eaten alive. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the hired help are faulted for neglecting their duties. In Ezechiel 34, they are reprimanded for neglecting their responsibilities toward “the weak, the sick, the wounded, and the strays”. On the other hand, Jesus calls himself the good shepherd. Just as a shepherd would leave the flock in the field to go off into the wilderness to find a lamb who was lost, Jesus seeks out the sick, the lepers, the public sinners, the marginalized members of the society of his times. He stood up to the authorities on their behalf, and, at the end of the story, he laid down his life for his flock.

The Lord tells us three things about the true shepherd: he gives his own life for his sheep; he knows them and they know him; he lays down his life for his sheep. The mystery of the cross is at the center of Jesus’ service as shepherd: it is the great service that he renders to all of us. He gives himself, and not only in the distant past. He does so every day in the Holy Eucharist.

Day by day, it is necessary to learn that I do not possess my life for myself. Day by day, I must learn to abandon myself; to keep myself available for whatever he, the Lord, needs of me at any given moment, even if other things seem more appealing or more important to me. It means giving life, not taking it.
 It is in this way that we experience freedom: freedom from ourselves. In this very way, by being useful, in being a person the world needs, our life becomes important and beautiful. Only those who give up their own life will find it. Let us entrust ourselves to Jesus the True Shepherd.


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