|As we heard in the first lesson this morning,
Peter was explaining how, on Pentecost, the Spirit came upon the first
disciples, where thousands had gathered. He was sharing with them
what had happened and telling them about Jesus. Many of them had
only understood this for the first time about who Jesus was. As described
in the lesson, they were deeply moved, cut to the heart: ďWhat shall
we do, now that we know that this Jesus, whom we crucified, was the son
of God, the Messiah, the anointed one? What should we do?Ē
All of todayís lessons help us understand who
Jesus is and, in a way, I hope, will prompt us to say, ďWhat should we
do, now that we know more deeply who this Jesus really is, son of God?Ē
We see not just the Jesus described for us
in the first lesson, where we are told how Jesus had lived among them for
so long and how he had walked through the hills of Galilee and how he had
healed so many. But, also, in the second lesson from the first letter
of Peter, weíre reminded again of who Jesus really is and what he did for
us. ďRemember the Jesus who suffered for you, leaving you an example so
that you may follow in his way. He did no wrong; there was no deceit
in his mouth. He did not return insult for insult. And when
suffering, he did not curse, but, rather, put himself in the hands of God.
He went to the cross burdened with our sins, so that we might die to sin
and live an upright life.Ē
I hope we really try to understand what that
passage from the letter of Peter is setting forth for us; that is, of how
Jesus took our sins upon himself. Sometimes, we put that in terms
of: ďHe paid the price for our sins.Ē But thatís not really
what itís about. It isnít that God is a God who demands a certain
price because we have sinned. Thatís not it at all.
If you remember from just a couple of weeks
ago, I shared with you the words of a civil rights worker who was sitting
at a lunch counter back in the sixties. Mustard and ketchup were
being poured on him and he was being cursed and insulted and so on.
It was very hard to understand that a person could take all of that.
But then the person explained, ďI will let them kick me and kick me until
they have kicked all the hatred out of themselves and into my body, where
I will transform it into love.Ē
Thatís what Jesus did for us on the cross.
He absorbed all the hatred, the evil, and the insults. He had done
nothing to deserve it, but he absorbed all of that and transformed it into
love. That love is then made available to all of us.
Jesus shows us how, when you donít return evil
for evil, insult for insult, hate for hate, but transform it into love,
it can transform every one of us. Thatís what it means that Jesus
gave himself for our sins and enabled us to live a new life. He transformed
sin and hatred into love.
But we also discover more about Jesus in the
gospel today. As I mentioned before, the major part of the tenth
chapter is about Jesus, the good shepherd. We only hear part of it
this morning, but itís enough to give us a sense of how God is a God of
love as shown through Jesus, revealed in Jesus.
There are two comparisons that Jesus makes.
The first is: ďI am the gate. Anyone who comes through me will have
life.Ē That may be a strange comparison for us, because we donít
have an understanding of how sheep folds were built or how shepherds functioned.
It was a small enclosure, a round enclosure, with stones built up to keep
the sheep within a certain area. There was only a small opening and,
at night, the shepherd would lie in that opening.
In a sense, the shepherd would lay down his
very life for the sheep so that no one could come in or go out, except
through the shepherd. Jesus is saying, ďI am that gate. You
come in through me and you will have life.Ē
The description of the shepherd in this passage
is of a shepherd who knows each one of the sheep by name. Remember
that Jesus is revealing God to us in saying he is the good shepherd.
Heís telling us that God knows each one of us by name. Weíre not
just part of a vast multitude of anonymous people -- God knows me and how
important that is.
Iíve always had a sense that people do appreciate
it when you know their name. The other night, I was doing a confirmation
ceremony at another parish. During the reception period afterwards,
I was meeting a bunch of the kids and so one. I always get their
names and find out who they are. Later on, I had gone on to other
kids and I saw one of the youngsters I had met before and called her by
name. And I heard her say to her friends, ďHe knew my name.Ē
It may seem like a little thing, but to her it was so important that she
was remembered by her name. It shows that Iím unique, Iím special,
Thatís the way God is to every one of us.
You are special, unique, someone of great value. Jesus is telling
as that the good shepherd, God, knows everyone of us. Thatís a very
important thing for us to know about God, how God knows us individually,
This gospel of the good shepherd also reminds
us that this is a shepherd who does lay down his life for the sheep.
Jesus does give himself totally for us.
This is a very important awareness about God,
that God is a God totally of love; God who, in Jesus, gives himself completely
for all of us, without limit, without condition, without reservation.
God loves us and thatís revealed in this image of the good shepherd.
As our responsorial hymn today, we sang from
the twenty-third psalm. Itís a psalm that helps us to understand
that God truly is a shepherd: ďBecause God is my shepherd, I shall
never want. God makes me lie down in green pastures, leads me beside the
still waters, restores my soul, and guides me through the right paths.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no
evil, for God, my shepherd, is beside me.Ē
This is the God thatís being revealed to us
today in our scripture lessons. Itís a God we need to come to know,
each of us, deeply, through my own experience in prayer, in quiet, in reflection.
And as we come to know that God, we ask, ďWhat must we do? What must
As always, we try to put the scriptures, and
what we hear from the word of God, within the context of whatís happening
in the world around us and within our church. The thing thatís just
overwhelming is the scandal thatís going on within the Catholic Church
today. Itís amazing to me how much attention is being given to this.
Today, in the New York Times, there
are four long separate articles about whatís going on in the church and
an editorial about the meeting thatís taking place at the Vatican on Tuesday
and Wednesday of this week. Weíre in the news and not in a very good
The leadership of our church, the bishops,
and of course Iím one of them, so I find it hard -- but our response hasnít
been adequate. I have here a letter that Cardinal Maida (Detroit)
sent out and asked to be read in all the parishes today. Iím only
going to read part of it, but the whole letter will be available next week.
He says at the beginning, ďMy brothers and
sisters, these last few months, our Catholic church has been living through
unprecedented media coverage about clergy, sexual misconduct, particularly
with minors. Itís a topic that will be discussed this coming week
in Rome, when I join with other cardinals from around the country for meetings
with the Holy Father and Vatican officials.Ē
Then he goes on in the letter to say the policies
that have been developed here in the Archdiocese of Detroit and so on.
Iíll give you those details later. But then he says in closing, and
this is only part of the letter where he refers to this, ďI am asking forgiveness
from anyone who was ever abused by one of our priests. I acknowledge
the mistakes by church leaders here and elsewhere in managing this situation.
The Lord promised to be with us and he has been true to his word.
Our church has survived and grown stronger through many different challenges
these past centuries, and so we have no reason for fear or alarm.
Let us trust in his abiding presence and love, even as we work together
to create a stronger and healthier church for the new millennium.Ē
I donít think thatís adequate. We have
to change a lot more than that. Itís not enough just to say, ďI ask
forgiveness for anyone who was ever abused and I acknowledge mistakes made
by church leaders." While not saying that we really need forgiveness,
too. Which is the truth. It's the church leaders above all.
As we think about Jesus as the good shepherd,
the contrast is so powerful; we have not had good shepherds. So what
are we to do?
I think the answer is in the gospel of Saint
John. This is a gospel that nowhere speaks about a structure of twelve
apostles. It has nothing about a hierarchy. Itís a community.
Peter isnít the most important person in the gospel of John. Itís
the beloved disciple, the one Jesus loved and who loved Jesus.
The gospel of John comes out of a community
where there wasnít a hierarchy and there wasnít structure. It was
more of a charismatic community of people who knew that God loved them
and who loved God, but then also realized that we must love one another.
God is love, and those who love God, must love one another.
The community of the disciples of Jesus, described
by Johnís gospel, is a pastoring and a shepherding community. Thatís
what needs to happen within our church. We need to have some deep
reforms and changes, and it wonít start from above.
Genuine reform of the church never starts from
the pope on down. It always starts because people take hold of the
message of Jesus and begin to live it in a way they never have before --
with more integrity, more authenticity, more honesty, and more sincerity.
The message of Jesus is so plain. He tells
us today who God is. Jesus is revealing God and itís a god who is
a god of love. Weíre being called to be people of love and to form
a community of love.
It would be marvelous if the newspapers were
writing articles that said: ďSee how those Christians love one another.Ē
Thatís what they said about the early Christian communities. It was
that kind of love which transformed the world and began to make the gospel
message spread rapidly and quickly.
As we heard in the first lesson today, three
thousand people were converted on that first day, because they knew the
love of God in Jesus. It was being manifested to them by those who
had first hand knowledge of Jesus.
We have to believe, and maybe this requires
real faith for us, but we have to believe that if we all began to live
the love that is revealed to us in Jesus, our world could change; it would
What must we do? What must each of us
do? What must I do? Thatís the question.
Come to know Jesus and know God revealed in
Jesus. Experience that love. Then live it like Jesus.
Absorb hatred and anger and violence, and transform it into love.
The message is so clear and itís a message that can still change the world,
if you and I answered the question: What must I do?
I must know Godís love. I must live it,
I must spread it. I must be part of a community of love that carries
the message of Jesus everywhere.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.