Fourth Sunday in Easter Cycle B
1 John 3:1-2
I attended a wedding of one of my good friends when I was in the Navy many years ago. Several of us from the ship had made the trip to be with our friend, and there were more acquaintances from his school years as well as home town there. I remember being outside the building where the reception was being held and discussing with some of them what we would do to the newlywed's car before they drove away. Someone had brought some cans of shaving cream to put on the car. I remember a discussion of two people whom I didn't know who stood near me. One asked if the shaving cream would hurt the paint on the car. The other one answered, “no, it's a rental.”
Now, I'm pretty sure that the person who said that did not mean that it wouldn't hurt the car's paint because of something special they did to the paint on rental cars concerning the chemicals in shavings cream. What they meant is that, “who cares? We won't be held accountable if it does, we'll be long gone by the time the rental car company realizes that the paint is damaged.”
Jesus knew well the propensity of people to value things of which they took ownership, and to discount the value of things which they didn't. We see this all of the time in the public discourse, where people speak incessantly about what they are due as a right but are not so quick to hold themselves accountable for what they owe back to the larger society. Fortunately this is not universally true, and there are people who will do things to help others for which they will not be directly rewarded for, at least in this life. The Gospel today speaks to this issue in several ways.
Jesus, in the Good Shepherd discourse from John's Gospel, warns us against the hired hand, the one who will not see us as his or her own but just as a job which, if done poorly, will not personally bring much sorrow or grief. Christ, because He calls us His own and like a parent wants us to succeed, cares so deeply about our life and soul that He will sacrifice His life for achieving our salvation. It is a good time to focus on the true meaning of Christ’s love, midway through the Easter season, a time dedicated to celebrating the salvation achieved through the death and resurrection of the One who cared that deeply.
But Jesus not only performs the role of Good Shepherd to the world, but He also models the behaviors that we must follow to demonstrate God's grace and be a true disciple, and to be co-shepherds with Him. For a hired hand who takes no ownership of what is produced, life is just a job, something to be endured, doing as little as possible to get by. For a Christian, life is a career, and the product of that life must be of the highest quality, meeting the standard of the hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” When we, too, model the behavior of Christ we will share in what He went through, both good and bad. Sure we set ourselves up for scorn and hardship, but it is worth it, because the love of God and neighbor that we receive in return for that love we give makes it so. The hireling will never understand this, and fear of the wolf will always keep him or her in fear. By the grace we gain in Baptism and the other sacraments, we need not fear the wolf because we know that God is there for us, always.
We are all called to be shepherds in one way or another in our lives. The clergy are called to be shepherds of their dioceses and parishes. We recently have had too many examples of some of these shepherds acting like hired hands, worried more about hushing up the bad actions of a few criminals and preventing embarrassment than about protecting the sheep of their flocks and exposing the crimes and preventing further atrocities, and have brought scandal on our Church. I hope that the new procedures and safeguards put into place will prevent this in the future. While we will always have sinners in the world, and in our Church, we must not allow them to continue their criminality once detected.
Most adults outside of the religious life are called to be shepherds of their family. Parents typically know this responsibility as a matter of course, but even those couples who don't have children and even those that do must help shepherd their spouse. I once heard it said that one of the goals of marriage was that each was required by God to help the other get to heaven. We must constantly shepherd those around us with love, starting with our own families.
Even children are called to be shepherds at times. I know that I am thankful that while growing up I had very good friends who did the right thing, mostly, and we all mutually reinforced each other in not engaging in what is ultimately self-destructive behavior. The adolescent years are difficult for all people, and behavioral scientists have demonstrated that peer pressure at this age is incredibly motivating, both for good and for bad. I commend Taylor Lilly for leading our youth ministry and providing a great example to this group as well as shepherding her charges with positive outlets for their energies. I also thank all of the parishioners of St. James for their help and support, financial or otherwise, which enable the youth ministry to be effective. At the last town hall meeting a few weeks ago, Taylor laid out her plan to grow this ministry, to bring the New Evangelization to this very needed part of our congregation. We must all consider ourselves co-shepherds with her to raise the next generations with Christian values.
Our parish intention this week is for college students. While some of those attending college are older adults furthering their education most are young adults, just starting out in life and experiencing independence for the first time. At a time when they need shepherding the most a lot of them are rejecting the idea that they are sheep at all. They believe that they are self-sufficient, and often reject the need for God or loving protection. We pray for them, that the knowledge that they acquire through their studies will mature into a wisdom of how God really created the world, with all of us interdependent on one another. We who are older adults should pray for ourselves, as well, since while we gain wisdom as we go through life we never quite figure it all out, and are in constant need of shepherding and an occasional helping hand to keep us on the right path. As Saint John says in the second reading, “we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed” [1 Jn 3:2 NABRE].
As we continue with the Eucharist, let us pray for all of our shepherds that we count on in this life, that God may guide them as they guide us, and keep us from the wolf, or as we will say in a few minutes, “lead us not into temptation.” Let our lives as Christians be not just a job we treat like a rental car that has no particular importance beyond the here and now but as a vocation to love and serve God, our maker. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who made us and loves us – let us follow Him always, and follow his example whenever we have the opportunity to be a shepherd here on earth.