In his homily for 4th Sunday of Easter, Year B, for Good Shepherd Sunday, Father Hanly says God Himself will be the Shepherd of our flock and we are members of that flock and everybody in this world has a right to call themselves one with the flock of God.
First Reading: Acts 4:8-12
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 21, 29
Second Reading: First John 3:1-2
Gospel: John 10:11-18
This morning I got up very early, and I was walking up and down trying to think of what to say.
And, all of a sudden, the rumble of thunder was out the window.
Now we are up on the 6th floor, so we’re high above, and you can see right across the many trees below us, very close and up against the windows. And you could hear the rumble of the thunder coming, and then suddenly you could also see the lightning. And then it rolled across and up into our area, and all the trees started shaking.
And I was just paralysed, it was so beautiful. It was 4 o’clock in the morning. It was something that I didn’t expect and I said, “How can this be? What a wonderful, beautiful world we live that I can live in one of the busiest sections, in all those buildings going up and down, the noise and that, and here is a whole forest of waving trees with thunder and lightning and everything that a child would want.” I remembered when I was a child, my mother used to have to hold me back, because I’d love to run out into the thunderstorms. I don’t know why.
And so I began to think there’s so much that’s beautiful in life and you don’t have to go all over the world. All you have to do is, at 4 o’clock in the morning, get up and look out of the window and all the lovely branches and trees blowing and the sounds of a storm overhead. Kind of nice, huh?
The Good Shepherd – today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Good Shepherd is as we say a little bit (inaudible) for the people of Jesus’ time. They’d never polish up good in Jesus’ day. The shepherds were the riff raff of Jerusalem. They were not in the city, they were in the country and they spent almost their whole life in the country. And, of course, their only job was to take care of sheep, so they didn’t need having to know how to read and write. They were kind of a tough crowd, because for the governments, they were not allowed to appear in court as witnesses, because everybody knows the shepherds are liars and stupid and dumb, and it goes on and on, just as it goes on today, you see.
And the wonder of our God and the wonder about Jesus is, He picks this, the shepherds, the lowliest of the low, the crummiest of the crummy, the ones who go and lay their lives down for their sheep.
Because, in every sheepfold, there would be a circle of bricks and a wall that would keep the sheep safe at night and the shepherds would herd them in there. There was one part, that was about five feet long, that was an opening that anybody could come in, except that that’s where the shepherd actually slept. He lay down in the opening and he would know that every wolf or person coming to steal the sheep or anything dangerous, would first have to step over his body in order to get to the sheep.
And, for that reason, I think they must have felt very close to their sheep, because if you’re willing to lay your life down for anything, you really are something special.
So today we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday.
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
The hired man runs away because he only does things for money, but the shepherd stays.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
And this is true. These poor little guys had to spend weeks away from home, because the shepherds followed wherever there was food, wherever the grass was green. And so they were seldom at home.
And one of the wonderful things, of course, is they were wide awake when the angels came and told them a Saviour was being born in Bethlehem, and the shepherds were the first guests to see Jesus the Messiah. God is full of these wonders.
We should remember them and not dress them up too nicely and remember them as they were. For a shepherd was a man that no one would have in their house. Certainly a daughter would never marry a shepherd.
And yet here they were the witnesses, so much so that Jesus says, in the one idea to talk about caring and loving and being close to people and forgiving and all of this, and he says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” That’s it.
The second thing he says to us today is that, “There are many people that I am waiting for that will come.” What he says then is
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
You see, we always think of our own, and we are Catholics, or we are this, or we are smarter, we are Irish, we are Chinese. But it doesn’t mean anything.
He says, the Shepherd says,
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.
No one else. God Himself will be the Shepherd of our flock.
And we are members of that flock and everybody in this world has a right to call themselves one with the flock of God.
And so we should, when we kind of talk to each other and get to know each other, we should remember that everybody is marked by Jesus, marked by Jesus as one of his flock and that he dies for them.
It should change the world, you would think, and perhaps it will, but it’s a long effort.
This is why the Father loves me
Not because I love him. You know if somebody loves you it’s easy to love them back. The Father loves me, because I love all those miserable people that everybody doesn’t want to see at their dinner table, or people who are left out of society, or people who are angry and full of deep hatred because they can’t get a fix on the world in which they were born into. There are many, many reasons for this.
But Jesus, this is his flock.
His flock isn’t all the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the people who get honours at the high places. The flock is the flock, and the flock is the ones that Jesus loves.
And he loves them because they are superior to those who pretend to be superior, you see. When you pretend to be superior, you are really inferior. Yeah. If you want to be superior, you must be humble.
God is humble. God is humble. God only forgives. He can’t do evil. He only forgives. All He can do is anybody that comes and says, “Please God, forgive me,” He’s got to forgive them. That’s what He is. He’s a forgiving God.
And He is made flesh in Jesus. And Jesus walks the world showing us that not only does God forgive, but the incarnate Son of God is the one who teaches us what is important.
And what is important?
Humility, forgiveness, kindness, to open up the (inaudible) and to help people understand how lovely they are, how wonderful they are, how good they are.
Because now we must see the world, not through our eyes, but through the Good Shepherd’s eyes.
And you know the great story of the Good Shepherd is he leads everybody up, all the good folks are up on the mountain, and he goes in search of the one lost sheep. And finding it, he cries and he puts the sheep on his shoulders and he takes the sheep home and calls for a party for this one lost, wretched little sheep, probably walked off in anger and got lost in the woods.
These are wonderful stories, you see. It is only through stories you will find God. You won’t find Him in many of the other ways, but if you are looking for God, find a good story.
Now, I’ll tell you a nice story, okay? Some of you have heard this story before. This story is one of my favourite stories. I’ll read it almost, but I’ll try to see.
Now this is the story of a very famous actor who was invited to a town hall to do his favourite readings. This was in the old days before TV and before even – well there would be radio. But even before radio, a common thing in a village was, and in our village where we lived for a while, is they would have a custom of people, orators, who are actors, would gather at the town hall in the village and they would do readings.
And a lot of times they had music behind them, and they would read from Shakespeare, and they would read from the Bible, and they would read from any place that the people wanted them to read.
So they were all gathered in this little place and this famous orator came in and he began to read. And he read so well that they thought it was just wonderful. And the music behind him would enhance the reading. And he read from Shakespeare, and he read from Aristotle, and he read all of the famous poems that the Irish and the English writers wrote.
All of a sudden, he came to the end. Then he looked out on the people and he was so happy he said, “I tell you what, now, is there anybody in here who would like to hear their own reading, a reading that they would like to hear?”
And, of course, nobody, because this man was very, very important, did anything.
But a little hand went up in the back and it was a little black preacher man who had a little church at the edge of town and it was probably unknown to most of the people who came to this.
And he said, “Yes, I’d like to hear… “ And he picked out Psalm 23.
You all know Psalm 23? Yes, “My Shepherd is the Lord, there is nothing I shall want.”
The orator said, “I’ll tell you what…” He’s going to play the little old man, make a bit of fun of him, but not really harmful because he was a nice guy. And so he said to the little man, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll read it first and then you follow me and you read it, since you like it so much.”
Then the poor guy, the little old black preacher, got a little embarrassed and he didn’t know what to say in front of all these people and he said, “No.” Finally the orator convinced him, he said, “Come on, be a sport, now. It’s only fair – I’ll read it and you read it.”
So the orator read it and, of course, he read it well: “The Lord is my Shepherd; there is nothing I shall want…” and he went all the way down through, “Only goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life.” And everybody went, “Ah, how nice.” And they all stood up and they applauded him.
And now he looked at the poor little man and he said, “Okay, your turn.” And so the little man came out. He started, and people began to chat a little bit, because you know, crummy little voice, “My shepherd is the Lord.”
And then, all of a sudden, well not suddenly but gradually, as he kind of, in a halting sort of way but in a special way, he began reading, “My Shepherd is the Lord; there is nothing I shall want.” And he continued, and he continued.
And as he continued, dead silence through the whole audience. And, finally, he came to the very end, he had finished with, “In green pastures, He gives me repose; beside restful waters He leads me, He refreshes my soul.” And then on to, “Only goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
And the audience became dead silent. But there was something very, very lovely about the silence, because they felt that they were standing in front of something very important. And they didn’t want to applaud and they didn’t want him to stop.
Finally, the head orator looked around and he saw many people crying. And he turned to the people and he said these words, “The difference between the two readings is this: I know the Psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.”
Now, what does that have to do with it?
Jesus says, the Shepherd, “I am going in to do what I was sent to do: to bring God’s forgiveness, God’s love, God’s care, God’s concern, to a world that needs it. But I can give you all kinds of books, and I can write all kinds of wonderful things, and I can tell you all kinds of wonderful stories, but if you don’t have it from the bottom of your heart, all this is trash.”
So Jesus is sending them out and he’s saying to them, “You must convert the whole world. You must make the world realise that everything is forgiven. My Father has sent me to bring forgiveness, His forgiveness, and you are going to take His forgiveness and give it, not to Him, but to each other, and then the world will change.”
But you must not be like the orator. You mustn’t be someone who’s going to read a lot and talk to many people because you’re smarter than they are.
You’re going to realise that you must find Him in the depths of your heart and believe in Him and care for Him and love Him, and then you can open your mouth.
And what do you say?
You’re not going to say prayers. You’re going to say, “How are you, Charlie? You’re looking a lot better these days.” Because God converts not through the Scriptures, He converts through His love.
And that is what we do. We are sent into the world to learn how to love. We are very bad at it, but we must continue to learn how to love, for in the learning how to love, we are healed and redeemed.
And in the learning how to love, we learn from our mistakes. No one ever learns from success. You only learn, the bitterer the mistake, the better you learn.
And so, from this simple story and, today, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know mine and they know me.” And we walk together very humbly.
The one thing we must learn before we die, the one important thing that we have to learn before we die, we must learn how to love and we have to learn how to love by loving ourselves first.