4th Sunday of Easter
May 11, 2014
Our society today measures the value of a person by one’s performance and accomplishment. We are embraced and accepted by others based on our educational attainment, honors received, work experiences, successes and the like. It is as if we are of value only when we have shown enough proof of what we can do. So much so that we when we fail or make mistakes, people laugh at us or look down upon us. We are “less loved” by the people who is supposed to support and encouraged us.
Christian faith, however, is counter-cultural. It holds that human worth is not something that is earned and, therefore, could be lost. It is rather intrinsic to our existence as creatures and beloved of God. St. John Paul II once said: “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures. We are the sum of the Father’s love for us...”
The real measure of our personhood is neither our successes nor our failures. We are human beings first rather than human doings or human undoings. Our being comes to be and is sustained by the love of God. Indeed, there is nothing in us that is not from God. Our potential for wholeness comes from him, our journey toward it is graced and directed by him. The Gospel for this 4th Sunday of Easter is a helpful reminder of that, with Jesus’ revelation of who he is in a very symbolic manner: Jesus is the gate, the gate keeper, and the Good Shepherd.
We come into the sheepfold through Jesus as the gate. In Jesus Christ’s Paschal Mystery, his passion, death
and resurrection, we were baptized and so entered the sheepfold (i.e., the Church) through his triumph over sin and death. But not only is he the gate that opens up to us. He is also the gatekeeper who calls and gathers us into his communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit. By doing so, he is also our Good Shepherd who would not suffer the loss of anyone given to him by the Father.
In this three-fold image of Jesus, he reveals to us the unmerited and gratuitous love of God who continues to reach out to us that we may accept and embrace the salvation that’s already won for us by Jesus Christ at the Calvary. While God does not need us, he chose to give himself to us and offered himself to bridge the eternal gap between the Divine and the human.
As he revealed himself in this 3-fold imagery, he also reveals to us who we are as the beloved of God with the metaphor of the sheep and the flock. First, the sheep is a very communal animal. It needs a flock to survive, otherwise, it will always fall prey to wild animals. On our own, we cannot survive. We are even a threat to ourselves when we remain individualistic, shortsighted, and adamant with what we decide individually to be the truth without regard for the welfare of others. That is why we need one another to check the truth and the values we hold. That is why need to live to the full our nature as social beings. We need one another to survive. God, knowing that natural inclination in us, wrought salvation not for individuals but for the community.
Second, a sheep has poor eyesight. It can only see clearly what is within 1-2 ft. Practically, it can only see the hind legs of the sheep right in front of it. We are like that, we don’t clearly see what is happening or what will happen around us. We don’t even have a good grasp of the past, more often than not. More so, when we enter into the God’s mystery. We don’t really know much except what is revealed to us by God himself.
Third, the sheep has a very good sense of hearing and smell. It can distinguish the bleep of the ewes, so that the mother can distinguish its own from another. It can distinguish its shepherd from strangers by their voice and their odor. Now, remember the first appearance story in the Gospel of John? Mary Magdalene was distraught thinking that someone took away the body of Jesus from the cave where he was interred, and she didn’t recognize him and instead mistook him for a gardener. Recognition came to her only when Jesus called
her by her name. The voice of Jesus resonated in her heart and enabled her to recognize the Risen Jesus. But this is symbolic of going into the depths of our being through prayer. We need to pray, for it is only in that intimate space where we can truly hear and recognize Jesus in the events of our life that unfold each day. Hence, the need for us to dwell with God in silence everyday. From there, we will hear the truth about how much God loves each one of us. In the process, we become open to allowing God's love to define who we truly are.
When that happens, we can live our truest and most authentic self without the need to prove our worth. It is simply living and acting as the beloved of God just like Jesus Christ. Then, we can truly be his flock!
O Jesus, our loving brother, may we always recognize you as the Gate, the Gate Keeper and our Good Shepherd in the ordinariness of our life as your flock. Amen.