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The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

 Fourth Sunday of Easter May 7, 2006

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday.
This week's readings **

Acts 4:8-12

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "(Rulers and elders of the people, if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by this name this man stands here before you in good health. "He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."

1 John 3:1-2
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.

John 10:11-18
"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again This commandment I received from My Father"

* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, the Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).

**The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

I came across a story this week, a short anecdote, that I think serves well as the beginning of our reflection on today’s scripture. The story is about a catechism class with youngsters preparing for their first Holy Communion. They were about 8 or 9 years old, and they had been asked to memorize some short passage from the scriptures that they felt really spoke to them. So each of the kids in the class picked out a passage and memorized it, and then they were to recite it in front of their parents and teachers. The first child got up and began to recite Psalm 23, a psalm we all know. She started off saying, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” And then went blank, couldn’t remember another word. After a pause she said, “And that’s all I have to know.” Everybody clapped. But that’s true, isn’t it? All we have to know is that God is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want. If we explore the sense of shepherd as it’s revealed in the scriptures, we will understand very deeply how true that is, that there is nothing we shall lack, because God is shepherd to us.

We say, because it’s written in one of the letters of John, “God is love. Where there is love there is God.” We have a sense of what that means, but when we put it in these concrete terms that “God is my shepherd” and if we explore in depth the meaning of shepherd in the scriptures, God’s love becomes very concrete, very real.

The idea of God shepherd to us is found throughout the scriptures. In the Old Testament, there are passages where Gods is very upset with the shepherd rulers of God’s people, because they were supposed to be shepherds caring for the people, but they were very corrupt and very careless about their responsibilities. And so God says, “I will be shepherd to my people Israel. Forget all the others. I will be shepherd.” God entered very deeply into their life.

In the New Testament, what we just heard today in the Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” -- and we can add in “I, the son of God, the one who is God, I am the good shepherd.” Why is that such a powerful expression of how God is love? Well, Jesus spells it out. One of the things that impressed me is when he says, “I know mine and mine know me.” He can call every one of us by name. Think how important that is. Any one of us, when we’re recognized, especially in a place or a situation where we don’t think people know us, and somebody says our name, we feel very flattered, honored. It’s very important to us because my name represents “who I am” and so if God knows my name, God really knows me. What a blessing that is! God knows everything about me. God knows what I need. God knows what I lack. God knows what will bring joy and fullness of life to me. God knows everything about me. God knows my sins, even, of course. But it makes no difference. God still loves me.

God knows me. If we could really absorb that deeply, that it is the good shepherd who knows the sheep, knows each of them intimately and fully, if we could absorb that, nothing else matters. That is all we need to know. But Jesus goes on to give us other reasons why he is the good shepherd. Remember the parable about the hundred sheep and one lost? The shepherd is ready to go and find that sheep. Sometimes if we feel lost or alienated from people or even in some ways alienated from God, we should know, and if we pray about this we will know, that God is searching for us, God is reaching out to us. That’s the good shepherd.

Jesus tells us the extent of the love comparing the one who isn’t the shepherd, the hireling, somebody who’s just doing it as a job. If there’s a threat to the sheep the hireling runs away. Not Jesus. He will lay down his life for his sheep. He says, “It’s mine to lay down. I can do it freely, and I will do it. Because I love each one of you so much, I will lay down my life. I will give up my life for you.” And we know as Jesus tells us in another place, “Greater love than this no one has than to lay down your life for another.” To lay down your life for another person. You know, we all would recognize, there’s no greater love than that. Yet that is the love of Jesus the Good Shepherd. He is ready to lay down his life for us, and he does in fact do it as a sign of the total love that God has for every one of us.

We need to keep on exploring more and more deeply how Jesus is the good shepherd for us. Every one of us must look into our hearts and discover that, because that is the message we have to spread to the world about Jesus and who Jesus is. In our first lesson today, Peter tells us that there’s no other name through which anyone will be healed and saved. Once Jesus entered into human history, then Jesus is available to everyone to save every person in all of human history, to heal every person. Yet the truth about Jesus has been obscured, because so often many of us have failed to reflect in our own lives how Jesus is shepherd to us and how we have to be shepherds to others.

I experienced a kind of dramatic example of this a couple of weeks ago. I was giving a talk outside of Detroit and it was about the abolition of war, which is something that I believe is very important, we have to work for. I gave all what you might call the logical reasons why at this time especially in human history war is absolutely out of the question, because it will end us at some point. But then I went beyond that to give moral reasons and speaking out of my own faith context as a follower of Jesus, I gave the example of Jesus who rejected violence for any reason whatsoever and so on. Afterwards in the question and answer response period one woman at one point said, “Well, sir,” she said to me, “I have respect for what your saying, but,” she said, “the greatest cause for war in the world are religious people. The greatest reason why we have war is because of religion.” And she cited examples. She mentioned the crusades for example. Religious wars led by religious believing people.

We’ve had other ways in which God’s love is so obscured by war. Right now we’re in danger of a religious war in our world -- Muslims and Hindus against Christians, against one another or we against them. And it’s true isn’t it that the followers of Jesus, we, all of us have sometimes obscured this truth about God being love especially represented by Jesus as the good shepherd.

Jesus taught us as the good shepherd that everyone should be included in his flock, but we as a Church exclude people from full participation in the Church. We do it sometimes to people because of their sexual orientation or because of they’re women instead of men so they can’t have a leadership role within the church. We exclude instead of draw in, so we obscure the message of Jesus.

In a very terrible way it has happened in our church because of the failures especially of church leaders in regards to the scandal of sex abuse in the church. It is so terrible that those who in a special way are to represent Jesus as shepherds, the bishops, who are called pastors or shepherds, have covered it up and refused to accept responsibility.

So we obscure this image of Jesus, and when we do that we lessen our own ability to see Jesus and to know God in Jesus as the good shepherd ready to give everything for us. We obscure that truth, and so it is harder for us to have deep faith in it.

It certainly is time for us to respond to this situation. In this Easter season, we’ve already heard a couple of times in the Gospel how Jesus sends his disciples to do his work. On Easter Sunday night he said, “As God sends me I send you.” So we have been sent to do this work of Jesus. We must, then, if we’re going to be effective ministers of Jesus and spread his word, we must begin to understand more deeply, each of us, how God loves us, how God is shepherd to us. We have to reflect that, be shepherds to one another, be shepherds to all those in the world around us, draw everyone into ourselves.

In Matthew’s Gospel, at the very end of the Gospel when Jesus is sending the disciples forth he simply says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” He gives them that mission in a very final and formal way. In John’s Gospel it’s done a bit differently, and this is the image I hope we will take with us today: Jesus is sending forth his disciples but he does it in a personal way to Peter. If you remember Peter had denied Jesus three times, had sinned, failed to recognize the love and the goodness of Jesus, rejected it. But then he wept. He was sorry, and at this point Jesus says to Peter, “Do you love me?” You remember this. And Peter says three times, “Yes, Lord you know I love you.” So then Jesus is sending him and the other disciples out to do his work and what he emphasizes is, “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Nurture, make grow, bring the message of God’s love to everyone everywhere -- not through power or force but through love.” That’s all Jesus asks of us -- feed, nurture, bring life to those close to us, but let it go beyond us. Draw everyone in.

If we could be that kind of a community of disciples of Jesus then the image of Jesus as good shepherd would break forth in its fullness, then people would come. The world would change. Joy and fullness of life would be the gift that God would bring to all. This morning, then, as we reflect on how God is a good shepherd to us we must try to hear Jesus sending us forth: “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep. Spread my love everywhere.”

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