April 26, 2015
THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
The Shepherd Who Leads To Life
Inventory (Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B)
Do I see my religion as construction work? Am I building my life through the acts of my religion? What have I chosen as the foundation of my life? What is the cornerstone I measure from? How does Jesus fit in? Does he play an active role in my life? A constructive role? In what ways?
The Entrance Antiphon speaks of an active, dynamic God: “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” because “by the word of the Lord the heavens were made” — and are still being made, being sustained in existence by the presence and action of God in the universe.
God is not only keeping us in existence; he is leading us like a shepherd into perfection and the fullness of life. But both the (alternative) Opening Prayer and the readings affirm that to be led by Christ into light and life we must know him and hear him. “Attune our minds to the sound of his voice… that we may know [his] strength… and enjoy the light of his presence forever.” We fear no evil because we “follow in faith the call of the shepherd.” Our good depends on hearing, recognizing and knowing Jesus in order to follow him into the “unity and peace of his kingdom” (Communion Rite of the Mass). Acting with and being acted upon by Jesus is the key to it all: “In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (see Ephesians 2: 11-22).
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 118) alerts us to examine what we are selecting — and may be rejecting — as the foundation of our lives: “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.” If we are not consciously building our lives around Jesus, we and God are using different blueprints.
Acts 4: 8-12 makes it clear that “There is no salvation in anyone else” but Jesus. “Nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” We do not want to be distracted by the fundamentalist question about whether people have to know Jesus explicitly by name. We who recognize “baptism of desire” for those who never heard of Jesus can focus on the relevant question: “Are we who do believe in Jesus actually making him the cornerstone of our lives?” Do we think we can find happiness and fulfillment by focusing on anything else?
The finished product:
If we make Jesus the cornerstone of our lives, what will be the outcome? 1John 3: 1-2 tells us what real fulfillment consists in. In a word, “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
We already know God, but not as we will know him. We are already like Jesus — we “have the mind of Christ” (1Corinthians 2:16) — but we are not like him the way we will be. We are “God’s children now,” but “what we shall later be has not yet come to light.” We are a building still under construction (1 Corinthians 3: 10-17; Ephesians 4: 11-16; 1Peter 2: 4-10). Our religion is a dynamic religion. Our Savior is a moving Savior, a shepherd leading the way. To accept Jesus is to get on the road; it is to follow him. If we stop moving, stop changing, stop growing in knowledge, love and service, we have stopped being fully and authentically Christian. We have stopped following.
Jesus defined himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). If we are not going anywhere with him we have rejected him as the Way. If we are not trying to learn more from him, we have rejected him as the Truth. If we are not trying to grow to the “perfection of love” we have rejected him as the fullness of Life. Jesus is not just a rock on which we sit; he is the cornerstone around which we build.
John 10: 11-18 tells us our relationship with Jesus is one of mutual knowledge and love: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” For Jesus to lead us as our Shepherd, we have to know him well enough to recognize his voice. The sheep follow Jesus “because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger” (John 9: 4-5). If we believe in Jesus but he is, for all practical purposes, a “stranger” to us, we may do some of the things he teaches, but we will not really be following him. John Paul II made this clear:
“Following Christ” is not an outward imitation, since it touches us at the very depths of our being. Being a follower of Christ means "becoming conformed to him" who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross (cf. Philippians 2:5-8). The Splendor of Truth, no. 21.
If we know the Shepherd, we will become shepherds ourselves, willing to “give our lives” for the sheep. We will “die” to our isolated, individualistic existence in order to live in Christ and let Christ live in us. Jesus foresaw this when he said, “My sheep know me in the same way that the Father knows me and I know the Father.” In the measure this happens, “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” At the end all will be one with God and with each other, “one flock, one shepherd” in the “unity and peace” of the Kingdom. Those who reject unity with others reject Christ. But for those who accept universal peace and love, “The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone.”
This is the “fullness of life” to which Jesus is leading us — provided we know him, listen to his voice and follow, as prophets initiating constant changes in our lifestyle to make our lives express his life and action in us.
What is the “cornerstone” of my life? Do I make everything “fit” with it?
Be conscious that Jesus and the Church are moving. Keep looking forward to see where you are going, and backward to be sure the line has not bent.