The Boston bombing and the Good Shepherd

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4th Sunday of Easter, Year C: April 21, 2013
Acts 13:14, 43-52; Ps 100; Rev 7: 9, 14-17; John 10:27-30

I have a dream! Well, actually, it’s more of a vision. It’s the vision that St. John had so many centuries ago, which we heard in the second reading:

I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.”

Isn’t this a glorious picture? Isn’t this what we long for—this peace, this harmony and love between all people—and that we sense must be possible somehow? And perhaps we long for it all the more during a time like this past week, when the news has so often reminded us again of the divisions and struggles between peoples. For this past week we heard debate about the reform of U.S. immigration laws; and this week began with bombs exploding in Boston, killing and wounding many; and ended with two foreign-born suspects identified, and one captured, one dead. And in all of this we see: people in pain; people afraid; people hoping; people attacking; people pleading; people accusing.

Always there is talk of what justice would be; always there is talk of “us” and “them.” Always there are divisions along the fault lines of nationality and language and race and religion. And perhaps some voice in our heart says, like Rodney King, “Can we all get along?” And, tragically, the answer turns out to be no. Because, no matter how many people may choose to seek harmony and peace, there will always be someone who, like Cain, lashes out at his brother; who, like the groups separating from each other at the Tower of Babel, will prefer his own group and push down another.

And, when we examine ourselves honestly, we realize that it isn’t just that group that does this—those people, those young men; no, it is us, it is you and I. Each of us recognizes that, while we may not throw bombs or pass laws, we too at times will make the choice, perform the action, that hurts another, rejects another, disrupts the harmony and peace that we seek.

It is said that, some 100 years ago, a newspaper asked some famous writers to write an essay on the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” And the Catholic author G.K. Chesterton replied with just two words: “I am.”

And so what of the vision? What of the dream of that great multitude from every nation? It seems out of our reach. And so we too may want to ask, as one of the elders asked: “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” And then he himself answers:

“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb… For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water…”

And there we have our answer: we need a shepherd. We need someone who can guide the flock to arrive at the place where that vision, that dream, has come true.

But who could this be? Throughout the ages, human beings have asked this question. Among them was the Greek philosopher Plato, in his famous work The Republic, in which he asks: Who can shepherd us? Who knows what we are supposed to be and where we are supposed to go, individually and collectively? Who has the ability to lead us there? Who can be trusted not to exploit us for his own gain, but rather to sacrifice himself for our good? Who can this shepherd be?

And each year on this Good Shepherd Sunday we remember the answer: our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Good Shepherd; he is the one we have been waiting for. While other would-be shepherds are more like thieves or mere hired men, who do not know the sheep or care about us; Jesus the Good Shepherd truly knows us and lays down his life for us. He has not demanded our blood, in justice, for the wrongs we have done; but he has poured out his own blood to transform us and make us good. And as we always celebrate in this Easter Season, not only did he lay down his life for us in loving sacrifice, but he thereby triumphed over death and rose again and opened the Resurrection to us—thus saving us and leading us to where no other shepherd could possibly go.

Who are these wearing white robes? They are the flock of the Good Shepherd.

  • They are not those who objected to Jesus’ words and did not believe him, as some of his hearers did; rather, they are those who hear his voice and follow him.
  • They are those who have been transformed by him—washed white in the blood of the Lamb—in baptism and confession.
  • They are not those who are “filled with jealousy” when they see others turning to him, as some were in our first reading; rather, they are those who are “filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” as more are saved and the flock grows.
  • They are those who survive the time of great distress, continuing to live in faithfulness and love, even when surrounded by the temptations and attacks of this life.

And as we follow the Good Shepherd in this life:

  • We love our own nation, our own race, our own people, our own language; and we seek to love them and help them. But we do not do so blindly, and we do not place our trust in them.
  • We try to improve the world around us, to make things better and more just, in accordance with Catholic social teaching; and we may even formulate political philosophies and political parties, and work on projects and laws, to do so. But we recognize that we will not fully succeed, and indeed that our efforts are guaranteed to fall short and fall apart, sooner or later.
  • And we are not surprised when we see some person or some group who still lashes out, in fear or violence.

But none of this discourages us—for we know, as the Second Vatican Council taught (Gaudium et spes, 39), that

after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured

in the new heavens and new earth. And we know that though this flock, this Church of Christ,

at times may look like a small flock, it is nonetheless a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race… used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all… (Lumen gentium, 9)

How strange it is to live, as St. Peter wrote, “as aliens and sojourners”—no matter where we are in the world, to be foreigners everywhere! And yet that is because Someone has made us his People: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet 2:9, 11)

This is our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, who knows us, who loves us, who gave himself for us, who will never leave us or forsake us. He will shepherd us and lead us to springs of life-giving water, and wipe away every tear from our eyes.
We are his people, the sheep of his flock. And no one can take us out of his hand.


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