The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one that has endured across the centuries of the Christian Church. The image of the young Jesus as the shepherd bringing home the stray or wounded lamb has been found on the walls of the catacombs, and a statue of the Good Shepherd has also been found dating back to only 30 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. However, despite its popularity – or perhaps because of its popularity – there have been two unfortunate elements that have entered into our understanding of this image.
The first is the propensity of Christian ministers to adopt the title of pastor and this understanding for ourselves. But what is clear in the Gospel of John 10 is that there is only one Shepherd who is noble or beautiful (better translations than ‘good’) and that is Jesus the Messiah. All Christians are as sheep in comparison to the Lord – which means we are all rather stupid, smelly and tend to wander away and get lost. All of us need to be pastored by the Lord.
The second has also always been a problem, but with shrinking church attendance and membership is becoming more problematic. This is the tendency to understand the image of the shepherd in very safe and friendly terms. We picture the shepherd as the one who leads the sheep back into the nice, safe and warm sheepfold of the church. But in fact the image that is used at the beginning of John 10 is of Jesus leading the sheep out of the sheepfold into the broad and good lands that lie beyond the safety of the church yard. It is out in the wilderness that the church really needs the safety and protection of the Lord.
Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year B. Recorded at St Col’s (Vigil and 9am)
“In the name of Jesus, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations.”
The readings this week again invite us to reflect on sin and repentance so that our hearts may burn with love. Jesus the just one, is the sacrifice that takes our sins away – not only ours, but the whole world’s. (I Jn 2:2) Peter in his declaration to the people says that we must now repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out. (Acts 3:19) But both sin and this act of repentance are very often misunderstood. We might imagine that to repent is to acknowledge that we have already done something wrong, which we regret, and so we now commit ourselves to living in a new way. We probably know that the word that is used in the Gospels for repentance is the word metanoia which means to change our minds and literally to do an about face and turn around, facing an entirely new direction. But what is perhaps not necessarily very clear is what the new direction should be!
The Gospel story of the two disciples walking away from Jerusalem and being joined by the (unknown) Jesus on the road who shared and taught from the scriptures about the suffering Messiah provides us some insights. We note that as they walk along, their hearts begin to burn within them as Jesus shares from the scriptures, but it is only when he begins to share a meal with them that their eyes are opened and they finally recognise him. It seems that a lot of what is going on in this passage is the true sense of repentance. Indeed as a result of this encounter the disciples literally do an about face and run back towards Jerusalem to share their story with the other disciples.
What Jesus was able to open up to them is the truth that needs to also be opened up to us. Last week I spoke about the truth that a better way to understand sin is as a theological problem more than a moral problem. Sure we experience sin morally – in the many ways that we fail to live in the fulness of God’s new life. But the more that I experience my own sin and that of others in the confessional, the more I realise that the sins that we know and are ashamed about in our lives are essentially the symptoms of something deeper. The moral failures in our lives are a pointer to a failure to truly repent. But what does this mean?
Perhaps the best way of appreciating this is to recall that within the Thomistic tradition, there is an understanding that within us there are two souls, often referred to as the little soul and the great soul. At any given moment in our lives we are either identifying with one or the other. If I identify with my little soul, I will feel bitter and angry. I know that I am living from my little soul when I am petty, afraid, aware of my hurts and being abused. If I relate to life from my little soul, then I will be impatient, short-sighted, despairing and constantly looking to feed my addictions.
But on the other hand, every one of us has a great soul. If I allow my great soul to reign within me, then I will be a different person altogether. As Fr Ron Rolheiser puts it: “I am relating out of my great soul at those moments when I am overwhelmed by compassion, when everyone is brother or sister to me, when I want to give of myself without concern of cost, when I am able to carry the tensions of life without a breakdown in my chastity, when I would willingly die for others, and when my arms and my heart would want nothing other than to embrace the whole world and everyone in it.”
Every day we are given the choice: will I live under the influence of my small petty soul; or will I choose to allow the grace and mercy of the Lord wash over me and call me to respond to him from the fullness of his creation in my great soul.
Easter, Sunday 3, Year B. Recorded at St Col’s Parish (9am).
Acts 3:13-15; I John 2:1-5; Luke 24:35-48
Have you ever been asked to do something that was so totally beyond you that couldn’t even believe you would be capable of doing the task? That is exactly how we should feel after hearing the gospel today. When Jesus speaks to the disciples gathered in the upper room, it is only right to feel overwhelmed. After all, to be told not only that those whose sins we forgive they will be forgiven and those whose sins we retain they are retained. To which we immediately protest that surely only God forgives sins? Which is absolutely true; and still the Lord commissions us to do for the whole world what he had done in and for Israel. But of course we could never share the mercy of the Lord with anyone – except in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Easter Season, Sunday 2 (Year B)
Recorded at St Col’s 9am (9 min)
Entering into the experience of Easter is always a profoundly moving event. I found this year to be no different – even though it was the first time that I have had the chance to lead the liturgies in a parish that I am responsible for which added its own stresses. The liturgies and encounters that are offered by the church are profoundly rich and provide an opportunity to focus on what is truly central to our lives as Christians.
The following links take you to the links on frrick.org to listen to or download the various audio files (I can only link one audio file here or iTunes doesn’t work.)
Easter Vigil – Play MP3