Cusp-a point of transition, as from one historical period to the next;
the borders between the twelve astrological signs.
You are considered to be "on the cusp" if you were born
within a day or two of the beginning or end of any sign.

The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak, 1863; Albert Bierstadt

22 April 2018

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter B, April 22, 2018

The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the oldest and most beloved icons of Christ we have. For most of us it may conjure warm and fuzzy feelings. Lambs are cute and cuddly and artists have romanticized the image of Christ as a comely shepherd with a lamb over his shoulders and a flock of sheep following closely by. We take comfort in that image, but we are so removed from the reality of shepherding sheep that we fail sometimes to appreciate Jesus’ meaning when he says: “I will lay down my life for the sheep.”
In Phillip Keller’s book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, there is a good description of the kind of beast the sheep really is. Looking at the verse, “In green pastures he makes me lie down,” he relates what it takes to get sheep to lie down. “Because of the social behavior within a flock, sheep will not lie down unless they are [at ease] with others of their kind. If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger.” To have a contented flock, a good shepherd had to be aware of and attend to the needs of his flock.
There are other problems that a shepherd has to attend to. Father Ronald Rolheiser related in his column: “There's a practice among shepherds in Israel…that existed at the time of Jesus and is still in use today. [We need to understand this] in order to appreciate what Jesus says about God, as the Good Shepherd. Sometimes, very early on in the life of a lamb, if a shepherd senses that this particular lamb is going to be a congenital stray and forever be drifting away from the herd, he deliberately breaks its leg so that he has to carry it until its leg is healed. By that time, the lamb becomes so attached to the shepherd that it never strays again!”  Shepherding is not an easy undertaking. If you want a thriving flock, you really have to have your heart into it. “I will lay down my life for the sheep.”
In John’s gospel, when the Baptist first sees Jesus he calls out, “Behold the Lamb of God.” So we have a dual image of Christ--one of shepherd and one of lamb. When considering today’s gospel passage we can see that Jesus is a good shepherd because he knows what it means to be a lamb. The Lamb of God was obedient to the Father to the point that he says, “I will lay down my life for the sheep.”
What does this mean for us? If we say we are disciples of Jesus and children of God, what does this mean for us?  Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
What does this mean for us in our day to day lives? It means we need to overcome our Ego. We need to stop being offended; to let go of the need to win; to let go of the need to be right; to let go of the need to be superior; to let go of the need to have more; to let go of identifying our self by our achievements; to let go of our reputation. Consider this, when we surrender all these things to the Father as Jesus did we will know true peace in our life.
I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I will lay down my life for the sheep.
In our Eucharist, we will soon hear the words, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” In this communion,
let us ask the Father that we may follow in faith the call of the Shepherd
whom he has sent for our hope and strength.
May God attune our minds to the sound of his voice,
and lead our steps in the path he has shown,
 that we may know the strength of his outstretched arm
and enjoy the light of his presence forever.

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