Today’s gospel reading is another section of Jesus’ Last Discourse at the Last Supper, as recorded in John’s Gospel. And, as Jesus was talking with his own disciples, it helps us to think about our own relationship with the Lord.
Are we close to him? Do we allow him to get close to us? Or do we keep him at arm’s length?
Some of us don’t want to deal with the Lord as a friend. For some, he is more of an impersonal “boss,” a Ruler who compels us to impersonally obey – “from a distance,” as Bette Midler once sang.
For others of us, he is our “best friend,” our dear brother,” “our shepherd.”
I’d like to invite you, right now, to think about your relationship with the Lord.
In the church before the Second Vatican Council, our Lord seemed to be distant from us, unapproachable. He was someone to be feared. He seemed to be someone who would send us to hell if we ate more than a quarter of a hotdog on Friday or had bad thoughts. And so we returned the favor; we kept Jesus outside of us, not close enough for us to invite him into our souls. Many of us kept him out of sight and out of mind. And in the old church, some folks would put off dealing with Christ or the Church until their deathbed.
After Vatican II for a while there were some renewal movements that brought people close to Jesus. I made a Cursillo (Little course in Christianity) back in 1971, just two years after my ordination. It had a very significant impact on my life in that it helped me bring others to Christ.
Four years later, I encountered the Lord up close and personal in a meditation I experienced on a retreat. That moment changed my life. From that day in February 1976, Jesus has been close to me, even though I have not always been close to him.
Jesus is now my best friend. I let him into my soul. I don’t exclude him from areas of my soul that are still in disarray. I let him “listen in” on my thoughts that he would not quite approve of. I am not afraid to let him know me – as I am, for I know he accepts me as I am. I don’t have to hide things from him. I feel his love, a love that embraces all of me – just as I am ~ warts and all. When we allow ourselves to get close to Jesus, we get to know ourselves better too. We don’t hide things from ourselves so much.
Some people, on the other hand, keep Jesus on the periphery of their lives because they know that if they let him in close, they’ll have to change and they’re not ready to change, so they keep the Lord at bay. Sometimes Jesus comes knocking at the door of our soul and we turn him away. What indignities we put the Lord through!
What I’ve found, however, that Jesus will be for us, as he was for the woman caught in adultery. He accepted the woman as she was and allowed her to change because she realized his love.
To know the personal love of the Lord is a wonderful, exhilarating experience. It’s an experience that you too can have – perhaps on your own with the Spirit’s help, or with the help of a friend and guide.
Then you’ll want to live your whole life in friendship with the Lord. You don’t have to wait until you die to live fully reconciled with Christ. You don’t have to wait until you die to experience holiness and wholeness. Jesus offers his very own life and love to you right here, right now!
Now let us take a close look at today’s gospel. There are three sections that are appropriate for our discussion. As I said, it’s still part of the Last Supper discourse.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and make our dwelling with him.
Our own soul becomes the dwelling place for God and God will abide with us forever.
St. Thomas Aquinas says that three things are necessary for a person who wants to see God: we must take a step to draw near to God; and we must lift our eyes in order to see God; and we must take time to look, for spiritual things cannot be seen if we are absorbed by earthly things. Where do you look? In the Scriptures. In nature. In your own family. In the people you meet every day. In the slightest little thing. In the present moment.
Accepting the reality of God’s dwelling with us and within us is the heart of the gospel.
It’s an invitation we should not decline lightly.
I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
The Spirit consoles us in our sadness over our past sins. He leads us to the Son. He makes us sharers in divine wisdom and knowers of the truth. In a hidden way he aids our remembrance because, being love, he excites us. He teaches us the hidden ways of God. He inspires us. He is the source of all creativity and the bestower of manifold gifts.
Even more intimate than Jesus’ abiding with us is the Holy Spirit who is as close to us as our own breath. Let us prepare ourselves to celebrate once again the feast of Pentecost in which we celebrate the Spirit’s work in us and among us.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
A true and abiding relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit brings an abiding peace. Even though all the issues of our life may not be totally resolved, we will be at peace with ourselves, we will be at peace with God. In the Bible the word for peace, shalom, never means simply the absence of trouble. It means everything that makes for our highest good. The peace Jesus offers us is the peace of conquest. No experience of life can take it from us and no sorrow, no danger, no suffering can make it less.
In another Easter gospel, Jesus says,
I am the Vine and we are the branches.
Live on in me, as I do in you.
No more than a branch can bear fruit
of itself apart from the vine,
can you bear fruit apart from me.
I am the vine, you are the branches,
The one who lives in me and in him
Will produce abundantly,
For apart from me you can do nothing.
There you have it. We are called to a real intimacy with Jesus. He can be a part of us and we, a part of him.
Let him into your life.
Talk to him about matters of your heart.
Let him in on your most secret thoughts.
Let Jesus be your friend – all the days of your life.
To bring others to Jesus and to bring Jesus to others has been at the heart of my priestly ministry, celebrating the fifty years since my ordination this past week. There has been no greater work for me than this.
I pray as you prayed that night with your friends.
I thank you for your love and friendship all these years;
I pray for all the people I’ve served through the years,
bless them, Lord, wherever they are.
And I thank you for wonderful inspiration of the Holy Spirit that has informed my life in so many ways.
I ask you, Jesus, to draw someone who’s reading this blog to yourself.
Let them know your love; touch them and draw them to yourself.
And send down your Spirit upon us once again; renew your Church,
and splash the Spirit all over our country, for we surely need a good dose of it as on the first Pentecost!
To You, Jesus, be all Glory and Honor and Praise! Amen.
Now, before you go, here’s a beautiful song with a slide show to accompany our theme of Intimacy with God. Click here, Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full-screen.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
And remember this weekend is also Memorial Day weekend. So lest we forget, when you go to Church please remember in your prayers those who died in the service of our country. And now here’s a tribute to our fallen heroes of all our wars. And let us pray we are not about to get into another one! Click here.
Acknowledgment: Magnificat Liturgical Magazine / May 2016 / Lectio Divina notes for the Sixth Sunday of Easter / p. 21.
The Fourth Sunday of Easter ~ May 12, 2019
Good Shepherd Sunday ~ Mother’s Day
Have you ever thought about how shepherds manage their sheep? The sheep follow their shepherd, who walks in front of them. They are not goaded like cattle. Cowboys herd cattle from behind, pushing them forward. Not so with sheep.
If you think about Jesus as the Good Shepherd, you’ll find him walking ahead of us along the way. He shows us the way. He’s been there ahead of us. In Mark 10:32, we are told that the disciples were going up to Jerusalem “and Jesus was leading the way.” And of course, along the way, he was teaching and forming them.
Apparently, it is the voice of the shepherd that controls the sheep. “My sheep hear my voice,” says Jesus. The sheep distinguish the voice of their one only shepherd from that of others. They only follow the one whose voice they recognize. I know that’s true of my little dog Shoney. He listens to my voice and responds to my directions (except he’s on a leash and can’t wander too far.)
In another place Jesus distinguishes between true and false shepherds. The false ones are hired hands that won’t go out of their way to help the sheep. The good shepherd is the one dedicated to his sheep and their care.
The concept of the Messiah as the Good Shepherd appeared frequently in the Old Testament, notably in the prophet Ezekiel. All of Chapter 34 is dedicated to the Good Shepherd. Ezekiel warns of the peril of following false shepherds who lead their flocks astray. Seek the Good Shepherd who says, “The Lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal. . . . Thus shall they know that I, the Lord, am their God, and they are my people.” And, of course David was the Shepherd King of Israel, having written our beloved Psalm 23 ~ “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
The words of Ezekiel were very familiar to the Jews. They, too, recognized the difference between a good shepherd and a hireling, who was more interested in his pay than the welfare of the flock.
While we love the image of the Good Shepherd, most of us lack firsthand acquaintance with either a shepherd or with sheep. But picture this as shown to us by William Barclay. . .
The life of a shepherd in modern Palestine was very hard. He was never off duty. The sheep were bound to wander, and had to be constantly watched. On the narrow plateau the ground dipped sharply down to the craggy deserts and the sheep were liable to stray away and get lost. The shepherd’s task was not only constant but dangerous, for he not only had to guard the flock but to protect them from wild animals and thieves and robbers. He was out there with them in all kinds of weather, day and night.
As Barclay writes, quoting Sir George Adam Smith, who travelled in Palestine, “On some high moor, across which some at night hyenas howl, when you meet him, sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, and looking over his scattered sheep, everyone of his flock on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judaea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to their king, and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.” Constant vigilance, fearless, courage, patient love for his flock: were the necessary characteristics of the shepherd.
And so listen for the Voice of your Shepherd. What greater blessing could there be than this: The shepherd knows my voice and I know his. There is instantaneous, constant communication as we seek to become one with this Good Shepherd. The closer, the more intimate that relationship, the better we will comprehend the words of our Shepherd: “No one can take them out of my hand.”
As I have always insisted, a deep, abiding personal relationship with Jesus is possible for each one of us! It is possible for you, simply for the asking! Reach out to Jesus today. He is your Lord, yes! But he wants to be your friend! Don’t be afraid! Just reach out to him. He is very near you. He already knows you through and through.
Jesus says he is not only the shepherd, but he is the sheepgate. The sheep go in and out of the pasture and are safe.
When the sheep came into the enclosure, the shepherd would lie down at the entrance, thus, literally becoming the Gate, or the Door!
Jesus is the Gate to the spiritual world. Because he claims us as his own, we are safe.
William Barclay has this to add about this passage. . . .
~ Jesus promised eternal life. If someone became a member of his flock, all the bitterness of life would be gone and they would know the splendor and magnificence of the life with God.
~ He promised a life that would know no end. Death would not be the end but the beginning; they would know the glory of the indestructible life.
~ He promised a life that was secure. Nothing could snatch them from his hand. Not that it would save them from sorrow or suffering. Even in a world crashing to disaster they would know the serenity of God.
Jesus says it was the Father who gave the sheep to him. And thus Jesus received his confidence from the Father. He was secure, not in his own power, but in God’s. And the Gospel passage ends with the words, “The Father and I are one,” which calls to mind his intense prayer at the end of the Last Supper, according to John, “Holy Father, keep them in your name which you have given me that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)
There’s another meaning here, too, I think. A lot of people experiment with other matters in the spiritual world that are not so safe. Like hallucinogenic drugs or seances and tarot cards or fortune-telling, or calling on the spirits. These are not protected and can be very dangerous!
But let’s look at the other side of this. The Good Shepherd seems to be doing all the giving, all the caring, all the protecting. The sheep just receive.
Now isn’t that the relationship we strive for with our God? We have received everything from God; should we not give all in return? Our love, too, should be unconditional, our loyalty without compromise, our thoughts, words and deeds in accord with the will of God.
And then ask yourself this question: Am I, in turn, a Good Shepherd?
This Sunday we also celebrate Mother’s Day. Certainly mothers are shepherds, aren’t they? They’re constantly shepherding their child or children to the bathroom or to school. So we honor all our mothers and grandmothers and aunts and everyone who cares for children this weekend! We offer our prayers them for the hard work they must do and in thanks for the greatness of their love and service.
But if you do have children or others under your care, ask yourself: Do I shepherd well those who are under my care? Do I shepherd by leading? Or by goading? How can I adapt my leadership style to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Then, and only then, will we be able to say, “I know my Shepherd, and my Shepherd knows me.”
Christ is Risen!
Now, before you go, here’s a version of our beloved Psalm 23, “Shepherd Me, O God,” that has the flavor of Jesuit spirituality as well. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay / the Daily Study Bible Series – revised edition / the Gospel of John: Volume 2 / The Westminster Press Philadelphia – 1975 / pp. 55-60; 72-75.
This is the third Resurrection appearance in the Gospel of John and it’s a charming story.
The guys had been fishing all night and had caught nothing. Heard this story before? This is a replay of their very first meeting in Galilee. Jesus suggests they cast their nets to the starboard side. (They don’t recognize him quite yet.) When they do as he says, they haul in a great number of fish.
And John says, “The disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
Then good ol’ impetuous Peter hastily throws on a tunic and jumps into the water dragging the net full of fish.
John, who uses symbolism all through his writing, notes that there were 153 large fish and the net was not broken. (We’ll discuss this a bit later.)
Then John writes, “Jesus said, ‘Come and have some breakfast.’ And he took bread and gave it to them, and gave them fish in the same way.” And he adds, “ This was the third time Jesus showed himself to the disciples after he had been raised from the dead.
Barclay notes that the catch is not described as a miracle as it frequently happens on a lake. A person standing on the shore can often see a shoal of fish more clearly than those in the water. And it may have been because of the grey dark that they didn’t recognize him. But the eyes of the youngest disciple John were sharp.
Now to the meaning of the 153 fishes. In the Fourth Gospel, everything has meaning. Barclay gives lists of “many ingenious suggestions for this symbolism.” But I will choose only the one that makes the most sense as given by St. Jerome.
He said that in the sea there were 153 kinds of different fishes; and the catch is one which includes one of every kind of fish; and therefore the number suggests that some day all men of all nations will be gathered together in Jesus Christ.
We may note further that all these fish were gathered in this net and it wasn’t broken. The net stands for the Church; and there is room for all people of all nations in the Church.
Here John is telling us in his own vivid yet subtle way of the universality of the Church. There is no kind of exclusivity in her, no kind of color bar or selectiveness. The Church is as universal as the love of God in Jesus Christ.
But there is more.
“ When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
Jesus said to him the third time,
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time,
“Do you love me?” and he said to him,
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
First, we must note the question Jesus asked Peter, “Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me more than these?” As far as the language goes, it could mean two things equally well.
It may be that Jesus swept his hand around the boat and its nets and equipment and the catch of fishes and said to Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than these?”
Are you prepared to give up a steady job and reasonable comfort in order to give yourself forever to my people and my work? This may have been a final decision to give all his life to the preaching of the gospel and the caring for Christ’s folk.
Or it may be that Jesus looked at the rest of the little group of the disciples and said to Peter, “Simon, do you love me more than your fellow disciples do? It may be that Jesus was looking back to the night when Peter said, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” It may be that he was reminding Peter how once he thought he alone could be true and how his courage had failed. It is more likely that the second meaning is right, because Peter does not make comparisons anymore; he is content to say, “You know that I love you.
Jesus asks the question three times—as Peter denied the Lord three times.
Jesus is gracious in his forgiveness. He gave Peter the chance to affirm his love and to wipe out the memory of the threefold denial by a threefold declaration of love.
Thus, we must note what love brought Peter.
~ It brought him a task. “If you love me,” Jesus said, ”then give your life to shepherding the sheep and lambs of my flock.”
We can prove that we love Jesus only by loving others. Love is the greatest privilege in the world, but it brings great responsibility.
~ It brought Peter the cross. Jesus said to him . . . .
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go.”
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
The day came when, in Rome, when Peter did give his life for his Lord; he, too, was nailed to the Cross, and he asked to be nailed head downward, for he said he was not worthy to die as his Lord had died.
Love brought Peter a task, and it brought him the cross.
Love always involves responsibility, and it always involves sacrifice. We don’t really love Christ unless we are prepared to face the task he has prepared for us and the Cross he has given us.
Lord Jesus, you know that I love You.
As your priest, I have tried to feed the people I’ve served as best I could.
Sometimes, I have failed, as Peter did.
You have given me crosses to carry throughout my life.
Sometimes, I was petulant and not carried them graciously.
I have tried to love, Lord.
Increase my capacity to love and to serve, even as I grow older.
This evening, Lord—as always, Lord Jesus,
I just want you to know that I love You.
Please be with those who do not know Your love.
And now, before you go, here’s the beloved Latin American song about the Jesus on the seashore ~ Pescadores de Hobres. Click here.
Or “Worthy is the Lamb” from Revelations taken from today’s second reading that truly honors our Risen Lord. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
William Barclay /The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John / Volume 2 revised edition / The Westminster Press / Philadelphia / 1975 -pp. 284-6.