“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10.27-28)
As I was coming by bus last night from Detroit Michigan to London Ontario it was interesting to listen to the conversation of my fellow passengers. On a bus, one speaks about everything and about nothing. Two stories remained set in my mind.
This woman was speaking about her experience when she went to check on a home which she had in mind to buy. It was actually two houses on one property; the man was explaining that they are in the process of divorce and so he lived in one house and she lived in the other. This one house was filthy, shabby and dingy – and she dreaded to enter into the other home. But the man insisted – “do not worry, he told her, my wife has put two restraining orders on me already but …who cares!” – and they went in. She was shocked to find the wife still lying in bed, sleeping with her two dogs even though it was 1.30 in the afternoon…. Obviously, a depressed, defeated woman.
I could not help remarking : “So much suffering!” “And so much confusion”, this other man on the bus remarked. “Last week I went to this shop wearing this Indian hat, a Dodgers shirt and a Tigers watch and the man at the shop made such a fuss : “look at this guy …” he kept saying aloud, “an Indian hat, a Dodgers shirt and a Tigers watch.. what’s happening, man? Can’t you decide whom to shout for…?!”
I was half asleep – it was one o’clock at night! But I could not help reflecting how much these two stories are an assessment of our life. We hear so many voices around us and listen to so many noises that we do not know any more what is happening. Everyone wants to sell us his product promising us happiness and success and a worry-free life… and we do not know any more whom to follow.
Before everything was clear. Bad was bad and good was good. The distinction was sharp. Everyone knew what was bad and what was good. Nowadays no one speaks any more of bad and good. Now we speak of what makes me suffer and what gives me pleasure. What makes me suffer is bad, what gives me pleasure is good. So old age has become bad because when you are old you are no longer productive, you become a burden. When one is in bed suffering and in pain, one should be eliminated. We shall be doing him a favor if we give him some shots and relieve him of all this pain! Marriage is great as long as the two partners fit in together, but once we cannot fit, once there is no more pleasure in it, why stay together? Give it another try with another partner! After all we have only one life to live! Before everyone knew that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, today even this is under fire – if two women love each other, or two men love each other, why should we refuse them the right to stay together and adopt children and give them all the social benefits of a married couple. Suffering is polluting. The only mortal sin in our North American society is smoking. Everything else has become relative. We are confused.
The Good Shepherd
The picture of the Good Shepherd and the sheep may have become somewhat sentimentalized and fuzzy-wuzzy – a kind of a religious make-believe – a pastoral moment in the eternal greeting card world of butterflies, rainbows, sunshine and sweet, smiley faces. But believe it or not, it still has a very deep message.
John 10 speaks about a Shepherd who knows us and calls us by name. All of us remember the feeling of dejection when we were not chosen. It happened to all of us at one stage in our lives. I used to play soccer and in order to form the teams two captains were chosen and they picked the players from the pool of kids which were around them. One chose one kid and then the other picked the other. Obviously each chose the best of the band. And I remember the feeling of waiting to be picked up and not being picked up, not being chosen… standing there, picked up last when all the good players had already been selected. They were picked, I was not and that mattered and that hurt. I pretended that it did not matter. But it did. Choose partners, choose captains, choose up sides. My friend was telling me how his daughter was crushed when no one chose her for the prom party. So painful and humiliating.
This is how it is in life. The witty, the strong, the popular are chosen. The weak, the stupid, the insubstantial are left aside. But this is not how it is with God. The story of the Good Shepherd says something very simple. It says the simplest plainest, clearest thing that anyone can ever say or ever hear. It says that the Shepherd knows YOU. It says that He chooses YOU. Yes, YOU are chosen. Now and always, whoever you are, whatever you are like, wherever you go You are chosen. Not chosen instead of someone else, or in front of someone else. And not chosen because you are better or stronger or wiser. You are simply CHOSEN.
You are precious in the eyes of someone. You are important to someone. You are a treasure in the heart of someone. And this someone will never betray you. This someone will never let you down. This someone is the best. The most handsome. The most real. The most caring. The most powerful. The most affectionate and mighty. Invincible and tender!
Jesus always meets people on a personal basis. Every encounter with Jesus in this Gospel is on a personal basis. He meets Nicodemus by night; he meets the woman at the well of Samaria; he meets the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda; he meets the man born blind. He walked through Jericho and sees a little man in a tree and called to him, “Zacchaeus, come down. I’m scheduled to have lunch with you!” He meets Matthew at the customs’ table and told him, “Rise, and follow me.” “He calls his own sheep by name.”
Chosen for what?
There is someone out there who knows me. This is a reality so profound that in a way nothing else matters; but there is more, God offers more. Why did He choose me? This is a big question. In life when we are chosen, we are chosen because something is expected out of us. No one chooses us just like that for nothing. I am chosen for a job because they believe I can render a service to the management.
We have a very functional approach to others. I remember this guy very radiant telling me how happy he was that he finally found a good match. She is pretty. She comes from a good rich family. She has finished college with honors. She can cook. She has a great job. Without knowing he was telling me that he loves her because she can give HIM many things… Pretty for him. A rich family so that he will have less financial burdens. She can cook well for him. We always look at others and see what we can get from them – from my husband closeness and security, from my wife stability and friendship, from my children affection and protection, from my friends companionship, from my boss money… Jesus Christ is different. He does not look at us and sees what he can get out of us. He looks at us and sees what He can give us. “I give them eternal life and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand”. This is great.
He can give us eternal life. A life which never ends.
We suffer in life because our life easily vanishes in us. Problems can steal life from us. Tensions at home can rip off our happiness from us. He can create in us a spring of life which keeps giving up water and so no one can ever make us unhappy, no circumstance can destroy us.
In the catacombs in Rome, the pilgrim can see drawings of three young men dressed in long white robes with their hands uplifted and surrounded by fire. This is the picture of the Christian. The early Christians are referring to the biblical story of the three young men who were cast into a furnace. whose fire was so strong that it burnt the men who threw them into it. Everyone thought that they will become ashes in a question of seconds. They did not. A breeze surrounded them and they were not hurt. “They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them” (Dan 3,27). The fire in biblical language is a symbol of problems, difficulties, tensions. Fire destroy us. Problems consume us. The Christian has the ability to enter into the fire of obstacles without being destroyed. Not because He is strong but because He has a breeze around him, the Holy Spirit inside him which protects him, which gives him the strength to overcome these problems. This is eternal life.
Jesus Christ can and wants to give you this. The trick? Listen to this story. A story is told about a soiree given in London. Present were diplomats, members of government, directors of banks and business, various artists and some others who were friends of the more ‘famous’ people present. From time to time one of the artists would perform an aria, a violin solo, a piano recital – and there was an opportunity to make a request. Present in the company was an elderly parish priest invited as a friend and he asked a very well known Shakespearean actor to recite Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul… Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me…”
The actor agreed, provided the priest would say it after him. As you can imagine, the priest felt rather embarrassed, but could only agree. The actor recited the Psalm with wonderful resonance and clarity and at the end there was a spontaneous ovation. The priest felt even more reluctant as the actor indicated it was his turn. He said Psalm 23, one of his favorites and when he concluded there was silence, perfect silence. Everyone was awe-struck.
The actor then said, “You see, I know the words, he knows the Shepherd!”
What about you?! And me?!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.