The Fourth Sunday of Easter
We sing along/listen to:
The prayers and readings can be found here:
We sing along/listen to:
‘Jesus said: I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
To say that Sister Agnes was excited was an understatement.
She was ecstatic, for she had managed to book her annual retreat with an eminent spiritual director.
She went on about it so much, that her fellow nuns were relieved when she eventually left the convent for the retreat. But she was soon disappointed. She was disappointed, when the first spiritual exercise she was given, was to read and pray on Psalm 23, the Lord is my Shepherd. Those same words we have heard this morning.
Like all of us, she had heard it, and prayed it before. And so she was hoping, and longing, for some new insight into the most popular text of the Bible.
She read and prayed the Psalm, and imagined herself in the scene. She saw herself as a little sheep on a very green hillside. She was a well-kept, unlike some of the other sheep, who looked dishevelled and dirty. Sister Agnes was beautifully groomed; her wooly coat, pristine. Her little hooves, clean and shiny.
This little sheep often saw people standing at the gate, people who frightened her, and the rest of the flock. People, things, like wolves, who would snatch them, making others scatter and run.
And then one day, she saw somebody who must have been the Good Shepherd; he opened the gate of the sheepfold and wandered around the field, tending to the sheep. Then, Sister Agnes’ little sheep bounded up to him proudly and asked: ‘will I do?’
There was a silence. The Shepherd responded: ‘no, you won’t do…’
‘But you will do, because I love you’.
That was the nun’s picture as she contemplated Psalm 23. Sister Agnes ended her exercise, and felt embarrassed on telling the spiritual director what she had experienced. The director said, Sister, you have had a mystical experience and you have learnt an important truth. That, truth, in the words of Jesus, ‘will set you free’ and the truth is this: ‘you won’t do. But you will do, because I love you’.
Today, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. We think on Psalm 23, and particularly on those words of Jesus from our gospel, that Christ knows his sheep, and is prepared to die for them, to die, so that they might live.
Do we hear that voice? Do we hear the voice of the Shepherd? Do we hear his words of truth, that ‘you will do, because, I love you?’
It’s a question that each of us needs to think about each day. Why? Because, as Sister Agnes saw, there are other people at the gate. There are people who wish to do us harm. There are people who want to distract, you, us, from the truth, the truth that: ‘you will do, because I love you’.
There are people and there are ideologies, that say, you won’t do, full stop, there are systems out there which seek to distract from the truth, by filling our heads with lies.
There are people and ideologies who say: you won’t do, unless you do this, or that, or the other. Unless you earn so much, unless you look like him or her, unless you have this or that….
But the Gospel is different. And the Gospel is different because Jesus is different.
Jesus says: ‘you will do, because I love you’. He loves us, not because of anything that we have done, no matter how much we convince ourselves, like Sister Agnes, that we have it all worked out… No matter how much we convince ourselves that we’re purer than pure.
Jesus reminds us, that we ‘won’t do’, because we are sinners, each one of us are sinners, in need of his mercy. But fundamentally we will do ‘because he loves us’, for he is the Messiah, and salvation belongs to him, he is the name, the only name, by which we are saved.
It is the blood of Jesus, his love willingly and lavishly outpoured that make us free, it is that blood that makes us pure – it is because of the price of that blood, that he desires all people, even people who are not yet in his flock, to have life and salvation. Jesus is the Good Shepherd – that spotless Lamb, who more than due, paid for his sheep, and those sheep, you.
Remember, today, tomorrow and every day of your lives what it took for him to say ‘because I love you’, it took him, the eternal shepherd of our souls, the full misery of the cross to accomplish our salvation – your salvation.
Do not be tempted to leave the sheepfold, to be lured by other false shepherds, do not despair that you’re not like him, or you don’t have that; but rejoice that you have a loving Shepherd who has gone to hell and back, to bring you to house of the Lord, where pain, death and destruction are no more, and that shepherd, that Lamb, who is pure love, who is pure mercy, who is pure compassion, is seated on the throne.
That same Shepherd longs to give you eternal life – so that you will not want – you need only let him.
And when you know deep in your heart that you are undeserving, when I know deep in my heart that I am undeserving, that same Good Shepherd who knows you, will take you, and me… upon his shoulders and whisper:
‘you will do because, because I love you’.
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