Posted by: matt25 | May 5, 2009

The Fourth Sunday of Easter, A reflection

Acts 4:8-12, Psalm   Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29, 1 Jn 3:1-2,  Jn 10:11-18

Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side-by-side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed, without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding, and it grew into a major difference, and finally, it exploded into an exchange of bitter words, followed by weeks of silence.

One morning, there was a knock on the older brother John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days’ work,” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? Could I help you?” Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor. In fact, it’s my younger brother! Last week, there was a meadow between us. He recently took his bulldozer to the river levee, and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll do him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence. An 8-foot fence -so I won’t need to see his place, or his face, anymore.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails, and the post-hole digger, and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.” The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day — measuring, sawing, and nailing.

About sunset, when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge… a bridge that stretched from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, with handrails, and all! And, the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming toward them, his hand outstretched saying, “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge, after all I’ve said and done.” The two brothers met in the middle, shaking each other’s hand.

We all know how popular pictures of Jesus the Good Shepherd are. In some of these images we see Jesus holding a lamb over his shoulders, holding the two front legs of the lamb in his right hand and the two rear legs in his left hand. This image or those similar to it appeals to us because of the tenderness of Jesus, his care for the lamb and his compassion. When we see this image our minds naturally begin to wander and we realize its personal meaning for us. We are that lamb or sheep who is being carried by Jesus on his shoulders. Such an image is reassuring for us; Jesus is our support on our journey through life. When crosses and problems come our way or some personal disasters occurs this image of Jesus the Good Shepherd reassures us that we are not abandoned, that Jesus is supporting and holding us up.

But in our day and age so many are lost and exploited by a materialistic culture that we often forget that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. We need to be reminded again and again that we are spiritual beings, with an eternal future as our second reading states,

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

We need to be reminded as Peter reminded his listeners in our first reading, that it is only in Jesus’ name we are saved,

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. (Acts 4:12)

And there are two powerful messages that grabbed me personally in our gospel passage today:

the one we have been talking about that Jesus is the good shepherd,

and that he has “other sheep that do not belong to this fold.”

The image of Christ as the good shepherd in our reading takes us back to the fourth Sunday of Lent’s responsorial psalm, Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…” In true Palestinian custom the shepherd leads and the sheep follow him. Unlike other shepherds, mere hired hands, this good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. This picture of the selfless, self-giving shepherd is the one that comforts us and so is the easiest to latch on to.

The image of Jesus as the good shepherd is very comforting, but it is also very challenging. The challenge takes us to the second message about the sheep that do not belong to this fold. Who are these other sheep?

May we not, see these other sheep as “everyone” who is not like us?

May we not specifically as Catholics see these other sheep as other Christians, separated sisters and brothers, not yet able to sit at the Shepherd’s table with us?

May we not, see these other sheep as other Catholics who are “too conservative”, “too liberal”, or just plain “wrong-headed” about their approach to life? May we not see them as those who have left the church altogether?

They are his sheep — “I have other sheep.”

The second message of the Gospel, then, has to do with our real, although fragmented unity with the other sheep who also are in the Good Shepherd’s care. As an Easter people we are an ecumenical people, a forgiving people, a compassionate people.  And if we are to be a Christian people we must follow Christ and reach out in truth and love to those other sheep.

In the Introduction to the Mass Father prayed:

The Good Shepherd gathers us and makes us one. Let us rejoice in God’s goodness.

What joy would resound in heaven if we were to pick each other up and carry the lost, the hurting, the blind, and the broken back into the Unity of love, which is the body of Christ.

OH!  I almost forgot to tell you the end of that story before.  After the two brothers met in the middle, shaking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder.   “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother. “I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build. So many in fact, that it is you who must now help me.

You’ll know when I need you to help.

Please say yes.

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