Loving Others as the Good Shepherd has Loved Us, Fourth Sunday of Easter (B), April 26, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Bismarck, ND
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B (Good Shepherd Sunday)
April 26, 2015
Acts 4:8-12, Ps 118, 1 John 3:1-2, Jn 10:11-18

 

Today’s homily was not recorded. The following points guided the homily, which was abbreviated as a lead in to the Diocese of Bismarck’s “God Shares” Annual Appeal. 

The Good Shepherd’s Giving His Life for Us

In today’s Gospel, Christ tells us clearly who he is and how important we are to him: “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” He contrasts a good shepherd with a mercenary, a hired hand, who, when danger appears in the form of thieves or wolves, immediately flees and allows the sheep to be stolen, harmed or killed. The Good Shepherd defends the sheep at the risk of his own life. Jesus is the fulfillment of the prayer of David his ancestor in the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want.” With Jesus as our shepherd, we have it all.

Jesus used the image of the shepherd laying down his life for his sheep to communicate how much he loved us. On face value, it is absurd for a human being to give his own life to save an animal’s. Sometimes we can grow to have such affection for our pets that we make all types of sacrifices for them and their care, but most of us would realize the absurdity of giving our life to protect, for example, a hamster. Minimally, if we were to die for our pets, they would be left without an owner and would not be able to make it on their own. But if it is absurd for a human to trade his life for an animal’s, think about what it would mean for God to trade his life for a human being. The distance between a man and an animal is infinitesimal compared to the gap between God and man. Yet that is what God did. He emptied himself and became a man so that he could trade his life to save our own. Then Jesus turned to us and told us to love others as he has loved us, to be willing to give our lives for them, even if we think they’re beneath us.

Today we have the chance to imitate that love in the way we care for others through the Diocesan “God Shares” Appeal. We’re not being called to sacrifice our lives for people today, but just to share some of the blessings that God has given us to carry on the work of the Church as the Church seeks to teach in Christ’s name the truth that sets people free, to bring Christ to people in the Sacraments he institute for us to give us his life, and to care  as Good Samaritans for all those who very much need Christ’s love. All three of these essential aspects of the Church are part of this God’s Share Appeal, but I’d like in a particular way to focus on the third, our charity.

The Way We Love God is Shown by our Love for Others

Our love for others is the criterion of our love for Christ. The Lord showed us that after the resurrection when he met Peter at the shore of the Sea of Galilee and asked him three times, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me?” Three times Peter responded, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” To the first yes, Jesus said “Feed my lambs”; to the second, “Tend my sheep”; and to the third, “Feed my sheep.” Peter’s love for the Lord would be shown by how well he fed and tended Christ’s own sheep, the sheep for whom Christ had come from heaven to earth to trade his life to save. Likewise, Christ said to each of us not “Love me as I have loved you,” but “Love one another as I have loved you.” Our love for the Lord will be shown by the love we have for the members of his flock.

This is the proper context for us to speak about God’s Share Appeal, which is a very concrete way by which we tend and feed so many for whom the Lord laid down his life. In the first reading today, St. Peter defends himself because of the “good deed done to a cripple.” All of us are called to be capable of making the same defense. We’re all called by the Lord to do good deeds for those who are in need. Through the God’s Share Appeal, we do just that, enabling the entire gamut of the Church’s charities.

Today’s second reading helps us to see clearly those for whom we’re caring: “See what love the Father has bestowed upon us letting us be called children of God; yet that is what we are.” We’re caring for children of our Father, which makes them, truly, our brothers and sisters. They are not anonymous strangers, but brothers and sisters in need. We know from St. Paul’s preaching that the bond of brotherhood that comes from the faith is supposed to be even stronger than the bond that comes from blood. If any of our blood brothers or sisters came to us in desperation, how would we respond? None of us here, I hope, would ever turn a deaf ear to such a request. I doubt anyone of us would consider our consciences clean and obligations fulfilled if we gave them a dollar, or five dollars. We wouldn’t try to give them what is left, but what is right, what we can, even at the point of the sacrifices that anyone who loves another is willing to make. The same response should influence the way we approach the God’s Share Appeal.

But looking at them as our brother or sister, and treating them as our brother or sister, is not even enough. Jesus gives us an even stronger image: they’re his brothers and sisters, too, and our care for them, he tells us, is our care for him. Jesus tells us that when he comes to judge us, he will judge us on one thing: the love we showed for him in our brothers and sisters. He said he would separate us into two groups, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put those destined for heaven on his right, and those destined for hell on his left. To those who are saved, he will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Those on his right will ask, “Lord, when did we do any of these good deeds for you?” He said he will respond, “As often as you did it for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me” (Mt 25:34-40). He takes personally every good action, given not just to those whom we esteem and admire, but to those toward whom we might be tempted to condenscend, the “least” of this world, the “least” of Jesus’ family.

Loving Freely and Generously as God has Loved Us First

And this is something we’re called to do not out merely out of religious duty or a sense of guilt, but freely out of love. Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, “No one takes my life from me. I freely lay it down!” Jesus sacrificed himself for our salvation with supreme freedom out of love for us. Likewise, he wants us to choose freely to sacrifice. St. John would way in his first letter, just a little bit after the passage in today’s second reading, “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16). That’s the essence of the Christian life!

In the first reading, Peter was being examined because of a miracle he worked of a man crippled from birth who used to sit at the gate of the Temple in Jerusalem every day begging for alms and help. With his head down in shame and probably to insulate himself from personal rejection, he asked Peter and John that day for alms. Peter said to him, “Look at us!,” because all charity is meant to be personal, even if the left hand shouldn’t know what the right hand is doing. Peter said to him, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, [rise and] walk.”  The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Peter took him by the hand and raised him up, and the man who had never walked in his life, leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God. It’s a beautiful scene. Peter didn’t have a money bag, but gave the greatest treasure of all, which was Jesus, who worked this incredible miracle of physical resurrection, helping the man to rise, to walk, to jump and to praise God.

There are some of us who have no silver or gold, no coins or bills, no checks or credit cards, with which to give tangible material help to others. We can still give Jesus and we ought to give Jesus. But to those of us whom God has blessed with some material resources, we should be generous in giving that care in Jesus’ name, allowing Jesus’ generosity to flow through us.

Last night, I had the privilege to stay in Bishop Kagan’s Residence right next to the Cathedral. I was praying in his beautiful chapel and saw a statue of the Curé of Ars, St. Jean Marie Vianney, the patron saint of priests. And I couldn’t help but think back to his charity among the people of Ars, the southeastern French hamlet where he was their pastor for 41 years. Fr. Vianney’s principle was simple: “If you have much, give much; if you have little, give little; but give — with all your heart and with joy.” For those with more than they need, he taught, “Your well-being is nothing other than a depository that God has put in your hands; after taking what is necessary for you and your family, the rest is owed to the poor.” God has, in a sense, made us his bankers. He has placed a divine depository in our hands and he wants us to share in the joy of his providence, generously and freely giving ourselves and what we’ve been entrusted with to others as freely as generously as Jesus has sacrificed all for us. We’re called to share as God shares.

And we learn that Good Shepherd’s generosity at every Mass. It’s here that Jesus the Good Shepherd calls each of us by name. It’s here that he gives us his life, his very body and blood, and calls us to “do this in memory of” him, to love others the same way, freely and with all our mind, heart, soul, strength, and the resources he’s given us.  As we prepare to receive him here, we thank him for loving us to the extreme and we ask him to make us good sheep and good shepherds after his own heart.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Acts 4:8-12

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said:
“Leaders of the people and elders:
If we are being examined today
about a good deed done to a cripple,
namely, by what means he was saved,
then all of you and all the people of Israel should know
that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.
He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.

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.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28, 29

R. (22) The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.
R. The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my savior.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
R. The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD;
we bless you from the house of the LORD.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my savior.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his kindness endures forever.
R. The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 1 Jn 3:1-2

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
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.

Alleluia Jn 10:14

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the good shepherd, says the Lord;
I know my sheep, and mine know me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Jn 10:11-18

Jesus said:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
A hired man, who is not a shepherd
and whose sheep are not his own,
sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away,
and the wolf catches and scatters them.
This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.”

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