4th Sunday of Easter B

See Commentary on John 10:11-21

Homily 1 - 2006

I am the good shepherd

It’s one of a number of titles that John’s gospel gives to Jesus: I am the bread of life.  I am the light of the world. I am the vine.  I am the resurrection and the life

In a way they express the fruit of the reflection by those in John’s community of their experience of the risen Jesus.

If you reflected on your experience of the risen Jesus in your life, would one of those titles come to mind? or is there another one you would think up yourself to better express just what Jesus means to you?

In giving Jesus the title The Good Shepherd, the gospel gives two reasons why: Jesus laid down his life freely for those in his care; Jesus knows those who are his and they know him.

I am grateful, of course, that Jesus died for us all.  What particularly appeals to me is that he knows me and that I know him - not so much as a shepherd [that does not touch me at all] but as friend... I do like that passage later in John’s gospel that has Jesus saying: I do not call you servants but friends.

Friendship talks of intimacy – of loving and of being loved, just as the persons we are.

It invites revealing ourselves. It energizes the desire to know each other ever more thoroughly, ever more deeply – not just with the head, but with a deeper sensitivity: getting on to each other’s wavelength, sort of knowing what’s going on in him without needing to put it into words... And it works both ways.

I remember reading a comment in a book I read thirty years or more ago, and it is one that has stayed with me: "For friendship to grow, you have to be prepared to waste a lot of time together".

Well, I put in the time, and often it seems sheer waste: nothing happens; I get distracted; can’t keep my mind still; I feel impatient.  But over time, the friendship has grown deeper, grown thicker: We have become part of each other’s lives.

Another fascinating thing: knowing that others also share Jesus' friendship does not come across as threat – there’s no sense of competition – but as wonderful encouragement and support.  It really thrills me when I know that there are others having a go to pray seriously.  Sharing a common love brings a whole other dimension.

Even knowing that each of us is here today freely, because we choose to be here (God knows: there are a thousand other things we could be doing! But we’re here) because each of us, in our own way, and at our own level, has been touched by the loving God.  Whenever I stop to think of it, I find it very encouraging.

For me all this is light years away from a sense of shepherd and sheep, of all belonging to one flock.  That language, that imagery, doesn’t touch me.   But perhaps it is trying to touch in to the same experience: I know mine and my own know me. 

Homily 2 - 2009

God has lavished love on us - as a result of which we are called God's children; we are God's children; and, as far as the future is concerned, we shall be like God and shall see God as God really is.

We are already God's children - we apparently have the same DNA, so we are already like God.  But we are not really there yet.  We don't see what God really is like.  We don't know what God really is like.  But eventually we shall.

So, it's like we've got the DNA, but we're still in the womb, as it were, or we're not yet developed much.

We have the capacity to be like God, and to live like God - but we're free.  And capacity does not become actuality automatically.  We need to co-operate.

Today's Epistle started: Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us - love – lavished on us.  That's what God is like!

Has it made any difference to us? Do we walk around like someone deeply, radically, loved?

I don't think God's love makes much difference at all until we know about it, believe it and accept it.

No one's love does anything to us: spouses, parents, friends, unless we believe it and accept it.  They can love us as much as they like, but if we don't know they do, don't believe they do, and don't accept their love, nothing happens to us.

But, when we believe and accept someone's love - deep, unconditional, strong love - that's different!  We change.  Our own love starts to come on line, and we change more.

If we let God love us, we find that we begin to love like God; we become like God – the same DNA.  We discover our capacity to lavish love – like God, even unconditional love; and we enjoy it.  It sits right with us.  And we can even stick at it when it's not appreciated or even when it's exploited, because, as we have grown in love, we have grown also in freedom.  We become free to love.

That's our destiny.  That's what life's about, now, and, apparently, into eternity.

I was thinking this week about asylum seekers - people who have fled their own countries and left everything behind them, hoping for a chance to live lives that have some decency.  Some of them have shown initiative - more than some of their fellow refugees.  They have been impatient - for a better life.

Do the disciples of Jesus in our country look at them with love?  Like God, our Father, do we lavish our love upon them?

Certainly, loving another does not necessarily mean giving them whatever they ask for.  You parents don't  give your children everything they ask for.  But, when they ask, you listen.  You listen lovingly.  You weigh their request against their own good and the good of the rest of the family.  Sometimes you will say: Wait.  Sometimes you will say: No.  But you won't criticise them, punish them, or dehumanise them for asking.

Refugees and asylum seekers present problems - but our solutions shouldn't be motivated by our own selfishness.  We can look for solutions with compassion, and treat them with dignity.

Unless we do, whatever about our harshness towards them, it certainly destroys our  own integrity.

Think of the love that God has lavished upon us.  It is so powerful that it can  make us god-like -

if we want to be god-like.  That's challenging!

Homily 3 - 2015

Jesus made it clear that he was the shepherd. Who are the sheep? Is it we Catholics? Or, perhaps, other non-Catholic, but Christian, believers? What about non-Christians? It is an important question. Jesus said, after all, “I lay down my life for my sheep”. 

Jesus referred also to sheep belonging to other flocks, and cared for by other shepherds, sheltering in the safety of the one local sheepfold every night. Did he see himself as ultimately responsible for them too? It would seem so. Certainly, he spoke of “my own sheep”: “I know my own and my own know me”. But then he went on to say, “There are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well.” So there are sheep of his that he knows but which do not yet know him. Perhaps we Catholics are not so special!

Jesus concluded today’s passage by claiming, “The Father loves me because I lay down my life …” and added, “This is the command I have been given by my Father.” We know that the Father’s concern is for the whole world. We are familiar with the passage: “God sent his Son into the world so that the world might be saved.” As it is with the Father who sent him, Jesus’ concern, too, is for the whole world. He laid down his life for the whole world. His hope was that the whole world would listen to his voice and recognise him as the one who laid down his life because of his profound love for everyone.

It is against this background that I listen to today’s Second Reading from the letter of St John: “Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are… We are already the children of God… ”. A human child is one who shares the same human life as the parents. A child of God shares the divine life of God, in our case by adoption.

I ask the same question as the one stirred by the Gospel, Who are the ‘we’? Is it we Catholics? Or, perhaps, other non-Catholic, but Christian, believers? What about non-Christians? What about the Tibetan monks who were in Hamilton last week? Through the resurrection of the risen Christ, we have all somehow been adopted into the living furnace of love that is God. God does not reserve the privilege for the lucky few who happen to be born in the right country to the right parents in the right religion.

I see this as an important issue. If we are all children of God, whether we are conscious of it or not, whether we respond to it or not, we are all brothers and sisters. Our experience of the salvation willed so passionately for us by God is a factor of how we choose to see and to love each other as brothers and sisters. Until we do, our present world will never move beyond its rivalrous self-interest and endemic violence. Indeed, only as we deliberately choose to love each other, and learn to become familiar with and welcome the experience of loving shall we be able in the next life to see God as God really is and to become like God – because God is love.

On this Anzac Day weekend, as we commemorate, one hundred years later, the futile killing at Gallipoli, it saddens me that nations around the world, including our own Australia, still seem so easily to think of war as an acceptable solution to major international conflicts. Like the very ones we march out to fight, we seem incapable of acknowledging others as brothers and sisters – loved children of the God we claim to profess.

 Homily 4 - 2018

The Good Shepherd knows his sheep … as the Father knows him. That knowledge originates in, and is facilitated by, love.

As Jesus looks at his Church today, he sees a Church where we are hurting, bewildered, uncertain of ourselves. We are called to unity, to responsibility for each other; but that mutual caring is under tremendous pressure. We find it hard to work ourselves out. We find it harder to work each other out; we can even feel hostile towards each other.

We do not understand each other. Jesus does – He knows his sheep. That is why he loves us. It is also why he does not condemn us. He condemns none of us. He understands us all. He knows why we sin. He knows the brokenness, the hurting, the woundedness within us all.

We do not understand each other because we do not listen to each other, we do not listen with “the ears of our heart”, we do not listen from the vantage point of love. We need to listen, to listen differently, to listen sensitively to each other… so that we better understand, better interact, better support each other … in order to be a caring Church, a good Church to belong to, inspiring, a Church where we all support each other.

We have the invitation, the opportunity, the vehicle precisely for that in the up-coming Plenary Council, dated for 2020. The two years in between, beginning from now, can be just that opportunity to listen and to share, to suggest how we might become that Church for which Jesus willingly gave his life.

 Homily 5 - 2021

Today’s Second Reading was from a letter of St John; the Gospel was from the Gospel of John. Both texts spoke of the wonderful, abundant love of God. John’s sense of God is consistent. The Gospel of John [not today’s passage] had begun with a reflection on the origin of the world, that it read back to the creative action of the second person of the Trinity [What it first called the Word and then the Christ]. It said there of the Word, the Christ: “Everything came into being through him, and nothing came into being without him”.

“Everything” — fascinating! What does that say about our universe, our natural world, whose existence, whose reality, is the deliberate work of God? The Gospel zoomed in further: “In him, [the Word, the Christ] was life, and the life was the light of humanity … the light which enlightens every human person”.

What does that say about us? To me, our origin, our present reality, speak [or should speak] of the almost unbelievable dignity of every human person … of me, of you, of everyone — whether we realise it or not. Sadly, somehow, the sacredness of our world and of ourselves unbelievably escapes our notice.

The Gospel went on to its wonderful climax. Nothing could stop the ever-developing plan of our undeterrable God: “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us” — and still continues to care for us, as we heard in today’s Gospel passage about Jesus, “the Good Shepherd …who lays down his life for his sheep.”

One of the physical laws discovered to be at work in our world states, “To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. John’s Gospel, when speaking of the Christ at work in our universe across the centuries, remarked, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, and the world did not recognise him.” Equal and opposite reactions seem often to happen, also in our human world of personal interactions. The Gospel said of Jesus, the Word who eventually, in the fulness of time, became flesh, “He came to his own and his own did not accept him.”

I believe that to learn to see the obvious, to develop a lively sensitivity to the sacredness of ourselves and of the world we live in, we need deliberately to reflect, to pray, preferably to meditate.

Of recent years, a number of people have begun to find voice and to speak up about their experience of discrimination. Among them are increasing numbers of women, First Nations peoples, the disabled and the elderly, those who see themselves rejected on the basis of their sexual orientation… and the list goes on. As they have become increasingly sensitive to their plight, they have grown into recognisable and organised groups within the community. Unfortunately, as might be expected, since they no longer can be ignored, opposition is becoming also more vocal and organised.

As I see it, our only hope of general resolution lies in more of us becoming aware of the sacredness of personal human dignity and learning to act and interact accordingly. Anything else deals only with symptoms — whether it be majority wins, the loudest or most troublesome, the best organised, or whatever. As disciples of Jesus, at least we should give the example of learning to listen to people whom we spontaneously disagree with, on whatever side they are on, and to hear what they have to say; and to learn also to say what we think, respectfully enough to have some likelihood of being heard. Our reasoning may be right; it may be wrong; more probably it may be a mixture of right and wrong.

Conversion is learning to love those we disagree with. God does.