|Acts 2:14a, 36-41
1 Peter 2:20b-25
|May 10-11 2014 Fourth Sunday in Easter, Cycle A|
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a very familiar one, and is often one that evokes comfort and safety. It has also been used to make fun of Christians, and to characterize them as stupid sheep. As I read it again, I saw yet another aspect of this story and metaphor that applies directly to the new evangelization we are called to but first let's look at those traditional aspects of the story.
Even though we live out here in Stow where you can walk from St. Isidore and be on a sheep farm within minutes, it still is hard for us to understand the fullness of what Jesus is telling us by calling himself the shepherd and the gate of the sheepfold. In Jesus culture, all the sheep belonging to all the family members would be gathered into the one sheepfold for the night. In the morning each of the shepherds would call, and only his sheep would respond and follow him out to pasture. Most people think that sheep are dumb animals who just follow a leader around blindly. Recent science shows that sheep are actually pretty smart. They follow the herd closely because that is the safest thing to do when threatened by a predator. Sheep have a very poor sense of location so if they get too far from the herd, the tend to get lost and end up as a meal for the wolves. Sheep can remember up to 10 human faces for more that 2 years, and they recognize the voice of their shepherd no matter how hard you try to fool them. And the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep is very personal. The shepherd knows each of the individual sheep and they know him and follow only him. Our words pastor and pastoral come from the Latin word for shepherd. Apparently it is still possible to see a shepherd in the middle east lay down in the opening of the sheepfold as its literal gate. Any predator will have to go through the shepherd to get to the sheep.
So the next time someone tries to insult your faith by saying the Christians are just sheep that follow the crowd, you can take that as a compliment, even if it is not intended that way.
What does this have to do with the new evangelization? In that first reading, we hear Peter evangelizing, literally announcing the Good News that Jesus is both Lord and Christ, a Lord who knows each of us by name, and who was anointed by God to be the one who laid his body down between us and death. The people who were listening are cut to the heart and immediately ask, "What are we to do in the face of this news?" Pete responds, "Repent and be baptized." That is evangelization in a nutshell: sharing the Good News of Jesus' paschal mystery, and leading people to baptism. The New Evangelization expands this to bringing the good news to those who are already baptized in a way that reignites their faith. In other words, "you have been baptized, now repent!" Repent does not mean to be sorry for your sins; it means turn around, you are going the wrong way. Instead of following the shepherd to safety and to good pastures, you are walking into danger.
If you worked for Satan and had to come up with a plan to keep this world full of war, and poverty, and conflict, and evil in the face of Christ's saving work, how would you do it? It turns out the most effective way is to make Jesus irrelevant. And our culture has done that most successfully. We are going down the wrong path because we do not recognize our Shepherd's voice. Religion is something we practice an hour or two a week, and we never let it into our public or home lives. Most people I talk to about faith and the Church think that religion is something that helps us get into heaven. Well that is so far off in our minds it is irrelevant. But that is not what Jesus came to tell us or to call us to. Jesus came to tell us that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Now is the time for God's will to be done on earth as it already is in heaven. Why is that? Because it is not doing God's will, and the delay of the Kingdom of God that is fundamental cause of 300 young girls being kidnapped and sold into a life of misery; it is the cause of the next person who will die in this area from a drug overdose; it is the cause of the next person to be hit and killed by someone driving drunk. Those are not God's will. And the only thing that can change a world full of this pain and suffering is God's love in the flesh. We call that love of God in the flesh Christ, and we are Christ's body.
Being Catholic is not about getting to heaven; it is about bringing heaven to reality here on earth. And God has chosen us to be the way that happens. We are baptized into the body of Christ so that we can be the love of God enfleshed here in Stow in 2014. Baptism is not some milestone we check off in a person's life, like turning 21 or graduating from college. If we don't live out our baptismal promise, our baptismal anointing as priest, prophet and king, the evil continues, more people die in armed conflict, another person dies of a drug overdose, another child goes to bed hungry tonight in this rich country.
So I pray that today's readings cut us to our heart, and we ask, "What are we to do in the face of this news?" The first step is to repent; turn around and walk towards Christ so that we can come to know his voice and follow it. In practical terms there are lots of ways to do this but every one of them starts with making our faith a priority. What am I doing that is more important than a child's hunger or a young person's life?
Without God we can do nothing; without us, God has chosen to do nothing. Let us start by recognizing Christ in the breaking of the bread.