Homily, Eastertide Sunday 4C
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. What images come to mind when we think of shepherds? We often think of very peaceful and pleasant scenes: green pastures, gentle breezes, streams of water, sheep grazing quietly on the hillside; or we picture the shepherds kneeling at the manger scene in front of the baby Jesus. But the actual life of a shepherd was hardly ever comfortable or easy, and often not very peaceful. Shepherds at the time of Jesus and in His neck of the woods lived tough lives. They stayed with the animals day and night, often enduring adverse weather, the heat of the day and cold of the night. They had to be watchful of dangers from predators, storms, and rustlers. And they had to be mindful of the inattentive and wandering sheep that so easily could get lost or get themselves into trouble.
To be a shepherd and to keep the sheep safe from the many dangers of this world was and is hard work. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow Me.” What does it mean to be one of His sheep? Are we confident that we really belong to Jesus Christ? “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow Me.” If we don’t hear and recognize the voice of Christ, if we don’t take the time to listen to what God is saying to us, and if we aren’t really following Jesus in our daily lives, then we’re following some other shepherd, or we’ve struck out onto our own path. There’s an old saying that whoever chooses to direct himself has a fool for a guide.
But many people wonder, do we even really need Jesus anymore? You’ve probably heard people say on more than one occasion things like, “Well, he doesn’t go to church anymore, but he’s really the nicest person you’ll ever meet.” Or, “Well, you know, he doesn’t really believe in God, but he’s such a good person, and isn’t that what really matters? As long as someone’s a good person, they’ll go to heaven in the end, right?” But this is not what we hear in God’s Revelation of Himself and in the witness of Sacred Scripture. It’s not enough to “be a good person,” to do my best to follow what I think is right. From the beginning God is always calling us into relationship with Himself. To be part of His family, part of His “one flock.” And Jesus is the fullness of God’s Revelation. Jesus says things like, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” “Whoever believes in Me and is baptized will be saved. Whoever does not believe in Me will be condemned.” Jesus is not optional.
One very popular and pervasive attitude today is religious indifference. “Who’s to say? There are lots of religions, lots of ways to enlightenment, to God, to heaven.” There’s a lot of focus on the mere possibility of salvation for those who never explicitly believe in Christ or live in communion with the Church founded by Him. But our focus should be on what God has positively revealed and commanded. The sacraments of His Church are still the only ordinary means revealed by God for our salvation. Speculation about other possibilities is often motivated by the fact that there are many in the world today who are not Christian, who are not Catholic, there are many atheists and agnostics, and we rightly condemn any violence committed in the name of religion, but another motivation is to try and sooth our own consciences for our lack of zeal, our complacency and unwillingness to take risks to proclaim Jesus Christ as the One Savior of the world. We make excuses to just get along, to remain silent, and shirk our duty as Christians to proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
St. Paul didn’t mince any words in our first reading, when He warns His fellow Jews that without believing in the Messiah God sent for them, they risked the loss of eternal life. “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” Judaism is incomplete, as long as it fails to recognize the Messiah promised by God through the Prophets, Jesus the Christ. The message of Muhammad in the 7th century is incompatible with the Gospel. Muhammad was a false prophet who has led many astray. We need to proclaim Jesus Christ to Muslims, to Jews, to all peoples, to fallen-away Catholics. There is one Lamb who stands before the throne of God in heaven. One Lamb who was slain for our sins and is risen from the dead for our salvation and for the salvation of all. It’s time to stop making excuses for ourselves, and time to start sharing the Good News.