John 10:1-10
The story of the Good Shepherd is well known. But because there is a Good Shepherd, does that imply that there is also a bad Shepherd? And what would that kind of Shepherd look like?
I would guess that most of us would immediately think of the devil. But to paint a bad Shepherd only in the category of the devil would be a mistake. There are a lot of other ways, and a lot of other things, that make someone a bad Shepherd.
I am not inclined to revisit all of the tragedies of recent decades. We know the stories, and how horrific they have been to the flock of Jesus. Those shepherds have their own reckoning that will come when they stand before the Good Shepherd. But I do want to say, without a doubt, there will be a reckoning. (Pause)
Because this will be, God willing, the last weekend I will have to do this type of Mass that is without a congregation, my mind turns to simple questions. How faithful have I been to the mission of the Good Shepherd? Have I been willing to listen to what he wants to say? Have I been listening to what he is telling me about my own life?
These have been difficult times, and while these seem like easy questions, they are far from simple. They carry the weight of my responsibility as a priest. There seem to be many of my brother priests, not most – but many, who struggle with these same types of questions.
A number of my brother priests that I have spoken with lately have commented how hard it has been to fulfill the mission that we have been given in these days. It is not just because of scandals. It is not just because of the pandemic. It is more about how many of our brothers and sisters in Christ seem to want to wander away from the flock of Jesus. This wandering away pains the heart of any good priest.
I want to quote Saint Augustine: “I, seeking to enter in among you, that is, into your heart, preach Christ: if I were to preach other than that, I should be trying to enter by some other way. Through Christ I enter in, not to your houses but to your hearts. Through him I enter and you have willingly heard me speak of him. Why? Because you are Christ’s sheep and you have been purchased with Christ’s blood” (In Ioann. Evang., 47, 2–3). He was a shepherd, a bishop, who understood and took seriously the responsibility he had before Christ.
Jesus uses the image of sheep, and the sheep pen – one very familiar to his listeners – to teach them a divine truth: since there are strange voices around, we need to know the voice of Christ. It is the responsibility of the Pope, the bishops, the deacons, my brother priests, and me to be that true voice of Christ in our world today.
Just before this section of John’s Gospel, Jesus heals the blind man. At the end of that story, he talks about the blind guides that are, or were, in charge of the faith of the Jewish people in his day. He has some very harsh words for them, words that are applicable to any priest who fails to pay attention to them. Then John starts in on the story of the Good Shepherd. It would be a mistake to separate the two issues.
Jesus’ reproach of those who were blocking the ability of the people to accept him – then, and now – approaches a condemnation. I do not think that is too strong of a word.
In today’s church, we need leaders who are able to speak the truth about Christ in such a way that there is no compromise of the truth, but is an invitation to join the truth, and pursue eternity.
The biggest problem with that, in my estimation, is that so much of our society does not even want to think about eternity. There is so much of our society that seems to only think of “today,” or “what is in it for me?”
There is only one voice that is worthy to listen to. That is the voice of the Good Shepherd. We all need to listen for that voice. It is easy to hear, but like the lost sheep, we do not always listen. And there is a difference between hearing and listening.
Listen. Jesus is calling, singing a song that we learned at our baptism, when we were made a member of his flock. Listen. Jesus healed the blind, he opened the ears of the deaf, he raised people from the dead. In this Easter season, he wants to do the same to you. He wants to make you a strong and healthy member of his flock.
What do I think he wants of me? To be a good voice for the sake of his flock in these parishes. I pray that I will always be able to listen, not just hear, but listen to the voice of the master, to the voice of the Good Shepherd. And… He wants the same from you. Amen.