4th Sunday of Easter 2015

In his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” Pope Francis writes persuasively about the need to live out, as followers of Christ, a spirituality that draws near to others and seeks their welfare.  When we do that then “we learn something new about God.”  And the Pope continues:

If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving.  Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation.

Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life.  It is a wonderful thing…when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names!  (p. 133)

A spirituality that draws near to others—and asks the offering of my life—is laid out for us in the Gospel this 4th Sunday of Easter; in a passage known as the “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11-18).  There, Jesus distinguishes the good shepherd from a hired man who “works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.”  When things get tough and the wolf’s seen lurking, he’s outta there; he runs.  In the hired man, there’s no level of commitment.  It’s all about him and what he can get out of it.  There is absolutely no concern, no care whatsoever.

This Gospel is not about sheep, hired men and the “big, bad wolf.”  It’s all about us, really.   We know   Christian faith involves spirituality, a path that draws near to others; where we have concern for the welfare of others.  However, it’s a path we can avoid walking as we keep a safe distance from others.  Too often, we have a “quid pro quo” approach to life that, mindlessly, we apply to the Christian path.  Though we might not articulate it this way, I want to know what’s in it for me before I sign “on the dotted line”.  Too often, we play it safe when it comes to God and to one another.

There’s found, too, this tendency to run; a tendency Jesus points out in the hired man.  Dependent on feelings and moods we’re tempted to bolt when things get rough; messy.   We can have our eye more upon self; focused more on what we fear rather than the welfare of others.  Only with our eye on the ‘other’ do we learn something new about God who comes to us in the other.  When we’re willing to take upon ourselves “the smell of the sheep” (Pope Francis) then will we learn; we’ll ‘get it’ and understand what this life’s all about, really; that it’s not about us.  In monastic life, I learned this first-hand while working in the infirmary and cleaning up incontinent monks…talk about the “smell of the sheep”!  There were days when I wanted to bolt.  Yet, for the grace of God I didn’t and there learned something new about God; about myself.    

Like the shepherd who chooses not to run—who lays down his life—the Christian path asks the same.   Recently, this came home to me while anointing long-time parishioner Nick Elia, and just hours before his death.  I noticed a sleeping mat next to his bed and discovered that his granddaughter had been sleeping on the floor; spending the night so that her grandfather would not die alone.  I was quite moved by that and thought immediately of this gospel passage; of the good shepherd who lays down his life, spending the night with the sheep.

Pope Francis again:

I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.  I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.  If something should rightly disturb us…it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without…a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life.  (p. 25)

Let us learn from the Good Shepherd and seek more the welfare of others.  Only this will save us and bring us into the fold of Mercy.

Father Tim Clark, Pastor




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