Homily: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Cycle B
Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
My homily at the 10:00 Mass today at Holy Ghost Church.
I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.
What does Jesus mean by this and why does he refer to us as sheep? Why doesn’t he call us horses or maybe even chickens? Why not dogs, aren’t they man’s best friend? Why sheep?
To understand this, we need to know something about sheep and how they behave. In Jesus’ day the shepherd would take his flock into a fenced area every evening where they would spend the night with other flocks of sheep. This provided protection against the wolves at night and would also help to keep them warm on cooler nights. Imagine what a problem it would be to sort out all these sheep in the morning if there wasn’t an easy way for the shepherd to gather his flock together!
Here’s the thing that is so cool about sheep … the shepherd only needed to go to the gate and summon them with a chant-like call that his flock recognized. They came running to him while the sheep from the other flocks would run away. It worked like a charm.
Sheep have this remarkable quality of knowing their master’s voice and instinctively fearing any other voice. If only we were as smart as sheep when it comes to recognizing the voice of Jesus, our Good Shepherd!
Think about the voices we so often listen to that are contrary to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Unlike sheep, so many of us do not flee from these contrary voices. Rather we entertain them. They tickle our ears. They call to us through our televisions, on Facebook, and in the political arena, and we so often listen to them.
In the verses just before today’s gospel reading, Jesus warns us of the false prophets that would follow him, the thieves and robbers who come to slaughter and destroy the sheep. In today’s reading he warns of the wolves who catch and scatter those through any possible means.
There are many false prophets today who try to convince us that Jesus’ words are outdated and unfashionable. They tell us that if we would only listen to their ideas, we would be much happier, doing what we want to do with our lives, rather than conforming ourselves to “old-fashioned” rules and ideas. These false prophets are everywhere with their messages of tolerance and relativism. You know, the voices that say that there is no such thing as objective truth, but that truth is whatever you want it to be…whatever is CONVENIENT and PLEASURABLE.
These are the voices that insist that abortion is about a woman’s right to choose, rather than about the murder of an innocent and helpless child. These voices want us to believe that respecting another’s RIGHT TO CHOOSE is somehow more righteous than taking a stand against the slaughter of innocent unborn children. I’m sure you’ve heard it said: I certainly wouldn’t do it, but who am I to tell her not to do it? After all, it’s HER choice.
How about the voices that tell us that marriage is fine between two men or two women, rather than a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman? Or that marriage is not even necessary…that it’s just an old-fashioned legal contract between two people that ultimately has no meaning. Or the voices that say that if your marriage doesn’t work out, just get a divorce.
What about those voices that have convinced so many people that the Church doesn’t have the right to tell us what to do in matters of morality. If I don’t think it’s sinful to engage in a behavior that the Church teaches is immoral, well then it isn’t, right? After all, who am I hurting by doing these things? I can make my own decisions as to what is right and wrong for me.
How many people align their beliefs more readily with political leaders than they do with Church leaders, showing more allegiance to their political party than to the Faith? How many look critically at the errors of their political party’s point of view and convince themselves that trite slogans somehow represent truth and justice?
What about celebrities? How many will travel hours to listen to the voice of their favorite star perform and perhaps catch an up-close glimpse of him or her as he enters the coliseum, but will sleep in on Sunday morning rather than come to Mass to hear God speak through his Word and encounter Jesus Christ HIMSELF in the Blessed Sacrament?
What about those voices who preach that Hell does not exist? It’s certainly enticing to think that all we need to do is be a good person and we’ll surely go to heaven. Don’t worry about Hell, it doesn’t exist, or if it does, no one actually goes there. Just follow your conscience and everything will be alright. Doesn’t THIS tickle our ears?
Following the voice of the true Good Shepherd, rather than the voices of our culture and our times, is certainly not fashionable and IT’S HARD! It’s hard because it requires us to CHANGE, to conform our lives to God’s truth and take a stand for his teachings. It’s much easier to believe that it’s ok for people to do whatever they choose to do because “their truth” is just as valid as “my truth.”
We must not let ourselves be deceived by the voices of those who contradict the voice of Christ. Our secular culture wants us to believe that life is all about gaining material things and doing whatever we find pleasurable. Sadly, so many are deceived into thinking that all life is about is doing what we want, when we want.
So few people believe that this life is a very short journey into eternity. Or if they do believe it, they don’t spend much time thinking about the REALITY of heaven and hell, one of which awaits each of us at end of this life. We must use our time here on earth to prepare ourselves for eternity!
We’re so busy running our lives that we don’t see the forest for the trees. How often do we think about heaven? Do we believe that heaven is real? Do we understand that what we DO and THINK in this life has eternal consequences? Or do we listen to those wolves who want us to believe that all we need to do is to be a good person and God will surely take us into heaven at the end of this life.
Do we make room for God in our lives so we can hear his voice, or are we constantly distracted by other voices who tell us that we need to do this or that so we just don’t have time for Jesus? Do we spend time in prayer every day listening to his voice, even if it’s only for 15-20 minutes? Do we make time to attend the Bible studies and book studies offered here in the parish or throughout the diocese? Do we take advantage of opportunities to be spiritually refreshed by getting away with Our Lord on retreat or pilgrimage at least once a year, even if it’s taking just one day doing something special with God and our Christian community, like the opportunity we have to participate in next month’s Holy Ghost Pentecost retreat and picnic?
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, believing in the name of Jesus, listening to his voice and following him, is the only sure and safe way to heaven, as Peter proclaims in the first reading:
“There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
Following our own ways – our own voice – and those voices contrary to the voice of the Good Shepherd is not going to cut it. Being a good person is simply not good enough.
As we are reminded in the second reading, we are CHILDREN OF GOD! As his children we must spend time with our Father and our Christian family growing in his love together. We must listen to his voice, spoken through his Word, through one another, and as he speaks to our hearts in times of daily prayer.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is calling us today and every day. Do you hear his voice? Will you listen and follow him? Let us all go forth and be FAITHFUL sheep.