The Lamb Will Shepherd Them

(Fourth Sunday Easter, Year C)

The mark of a truly great leader is his willingness to suffer with his people. An example is Alexander the Great. When he was crossing the Makran Desert on his way to Persia, his army ran out of water. The soldiers were dying of thirst as they advanced under the burning sun. A couple of Alexander's lieutenants managed to capture some water from a passing caravan. They brought some to him in a helmet. He asked, "Is there enough for both me and my men?"

"Only you, sir," they replied.

Alexander then lifted up the helmet as the soldiers watched. Instead of drinking, he tipped it over and poured the water on the ground. The men let up a great shout. They knew their general would not allow them to suffer anything he was unwilling to himself accept.

Jesus is that kind of leader par excellence. On this is Good Shepherd Sunday it is interesting that our second reading from Revelation describes Jesus first not as a shepherd, but as a Lamb. That lamb had been slain and we are urged to wash in his blood. What a strange, paradoxical image! Jesus is our Shepherd because he first offered his life as a lamb, that is, a young sheep. Jesus does not ask us to suffer anything he himself is not willing to endure.

A friend of mine, Fr. José Ricardo García gave a lesson in that when he was here back in the late seventies. He was working with people who were very poor, some homeless. He decided to find out what it was like. He bought a bus ticket to Portland and went there with not a dime in his pockets. When he got off the bus, he started talking with street people asking where he could get a meal and place to stay. He spent his whole vacation, about three weeks, in different missions.

I asked Fr. García what he learned from the experience. One of the things he mentioned was the difference between the Catholic and Protestant missions. Both gave a hot meal and a place to sleep. But the Evangelicals also gave the men a little talk first, told them to stop drinking, get their lives in order and above all, invited them to pray, to turn back to God.

I asked him if he felt insulted. He said, "No, all of us need to be chewed out once in the while. Told to get back on the track."

That's another way Jesus is our Good Shepherd. You know, the image of a sheep is not a very flattering one. It's not the strongest animal--and far from the smartest. For example, a dog or even a cat can find its way back home. But a sheep, if it gets separated from the flock, will just wander aimlessly until the shepherd finally comes to its rescue.

Well, Jesus is our Good Shepherd. How often does he have to use gentle--and sometimes not so gentle--means to get us back where we belong! Some people are dismayed when bad things happen. They ask "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Well, first of all don't assume you are all that good. I encourage you to read (or re-read) Graham Greene's novel, The Power and the Glory. It's about a "whiskey priest" who winds up being martyred during the Mexican persecution of the Church. He knows he is bad, but most of his pain comes from people who think they are good. One self-righteous woman in particular he tries to shock out of her complacency. Sometimes Jesus has to do that to us. When some blow comes, it might be the staff of the Good Shepherd.

(I believe this is particularly true today of those in our church have compromised with the world. They feel good about themselves because they have society's approval. For example they will say "I am a Catholic but I am pro-choice. I am not like those fanatics." They've wandered from Jesus' flock looking for a more comfortable field. Jesus sometimes has to use drastic measures to bring them back.)

On an everyday basis Jesus employs other human beings to do his work of shepherding the flock. First and foremost in our Archdiocese is Archbishop Brunett. He has a responsibility--in union with the Holy Father--to shepherd us in the person of Jesus. He has shared that role with me here at Holy Family and in turn I have many collaborating with me.

In a family that is also the case. The father has a shepherd's role which he shares with his wife. Some cultures express that in the wedding custom of the arras or coins. The groom places them in the brides hands pledging to work for the material needs of the home. For her part she accepts the responsibility to manage well the household. This often means taking care of the finances. It's not an ironclad law, but we have to admit that in general women are more responsible in this area. And often more generous when they see a particular need.

Last Sunday I mentioned that I would be increasing my Annual Appeal pledge by 10%. One man told me that his wife had informed him she was increasing their pledge 100%--from $100 to $200! Oftentimes women are more generous and more practical. They know the parish and the archdiocese needs the material support to be able to shepherd this tremendous flock.

I invite you to now do your part...

From Archives (Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B):

2015: Disciple Makers Week 4: Smell of the Sheep & Smile of a Father
2012: The Most Inclusive Religion
2009: Basics of Salvation
2006: The Leaders We Deserve
2003: The Shepherd's Crook
2000: Jesus' Job Description

Where Are the Shepherds? (Columbine Massacre)

1998 Good Shepherd (Alexander the Great, Graham Greene Power and Glory)

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