Homily — 4th Sunday Easter B MMIX May 3, 2009

Homily — 4th Sunday Easter B MMIX            May 3, 2009

I am the Good Shepherd,  I will lay down my life for my sheep, says the Lord Jesus.

Every year on this Fourth Sunday of Easter the Church gives us this wonderful image of Christ to reflect on.

And at first glance, the image of Christ the Good Shepherd is a very consoling one.  Jesus is the gentle Shepherd, who cares for every sheep in his flock and calls each one by name.   The Good Shepherd leads us throughout our life to Green Pastures,  He is there guiding us through the dark valleys.

Only when absolutely necessary does the Good Shepherd have to get out his rod to discipline us when we stay onto dangerous paths.    But very very frequently is he needing to use his staff to gently nudge us from straying out of the pasture and onto dangerous paths.

All of the above is certainly true of Jesus the Good Shepherd.    But this year, given the circumstances the Church in our country finds herself in, lets take a deeper look at this image of the Good Shepherd as Jesus presents it.

Our Lord says I am the Good Shepherd, I will lay down my life for the sheep.    Jesus doesn’t say “the Good Shepherd will risk laying down His life for the Sheep” he instead says “the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep.”    Here we have a not very consoling image of a flock of sheep seriously threatened by a pack of wolves.

When these wolves attack the pasture, the Good Shepherd, as Jesus says, does not run away, but rather the Good Shepherd stands between the wolves and the sheep.

At times, the wolves will back down out of fear of the Good Shepherd.  At other times, no matter how fiercely the wolves attack, they are unable to overcome Him.

But the mysterious reality is that at other times, The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.    At these times when God the Father permits it, the sheep look with horror as the Good Shepherd is torn to pieces by the wolves, and dies.

This is of course what happened that first Holy Week, when the Apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane watched with horror as they saw Jesus the Good Shepherd be arrested by the wolves, then be scourged and then be crucified and buried in the tomb.   And throughout the history of our Holy Catholic  Church,  this scene has been repeated in times of persecution.

A similar image is presented in the first reading, and in the Psalm.  Jesus is the Stone rejected by the builders, says Peter in the First Reading.    The Stone is rejected, another stone is used as the foundation, and the building is built not on Jesus Christ but on a shaky foundation that really won’t withstand the storms and earthquakes and floods in the long run.

And once the building is up, it is next to impossible to change foundations on that building.  The Stone remains rejected, cast aside by the builders;  the Good Shepherd is killed by the wolves.

It is an image I present to you my brothers and sisters, because in a lot of ways this is what we are seeing in our culture today.   Jesus, the Cornerstone of civilization and true human progress, is being more and more rejected by the builders of our society today.

For example, Jesus’ teaching on the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, a teaching John the Baptist lost his head defending, is being rejected by the builders of our society today.

And Jesus’ teaching on the sanctity of human life, his teaching that whatsoever you do to the most insignificant of innocent human beings, we do unto him, this foundational teaching has also been rejected by the builders of our society today.    And sadly, Christ’s 2000 year old teaching on the sanctity of human life is being even rejected by some of our nations biggest Catholic Universities, as seen in the recent scandalous decision of one Catholic University to give an honorary degree later this month to one of the most pro-abortion politicians currently in office.

Jesus Christ, the cornerstone apart from whom there is no salvation, is no longer the cornerstone of our society; and even worse, He is no longer the cornerstone of many who claim to be Catholic in our country.

But let us end this meditation by returning to the image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, standing up to the wolves who seek to devour the sheep of his pasture.

The sheep look on as the Good Shepherd with great courage stands up to the wolves.    They see how he doesn’t run, they see his great love for them, and even as the wolves tear him apart they see how he does not hold any hatred for them.

And as the wolves finish dealing with the Good Shepherd and turn their eyes on the sheep, one or two of the sheep are so inspired by the witness of the Good Shepherd that they rush to the front of the flock.

And in imitation of Jesus the Good Shepherd, these once frightened, timid sheep themselves stand between the wolves and the flock, defending them from harm, laying down their lives for their brother sheep.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us, in making us the Children of God.  And so we are!

My brothers and sister, we are children of the Good Shepherd.  We need not fear the wolves of our day, who reject Jesus and build on another foundation.  May we remain close to the Good Shepherd; may we make Him the cornerstone of our lives, and pray that one day He will again be the cornerstone of our society.

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