A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B
Most of us, I dare say, would prefer Mom’s home cooking to fast food, being chauffeured by a close friend to being chauffeured by an Uber driver, recovering from an illness at home among loved ones to undergoing rehabilitation in a faraway urban hospital. All things being equal, we prefer being cared for and served by people who love us rather than by strangers.
I say, “all things being equal.” In some cases, Mom’s home cooking may be pretty horrible. Our diocese’ very own Father Tom Bortz says that his mother was such a bad cook that he and his siblings knew the local firemen on a first-name basis! Yes, Mom may need to take a course in culinary arts. Your close friend eager to chauffeur you may have a long record of DUIs. The loved ones at home may feel ill-equipped to deal with your illness. All things being equal, however, love is the best sauce, the best companionship, and the best medicine. Hirelings and strangers generally take a back seat to loved ones.
In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus says:
I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. 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.
Our Lord is basically saying to each one of us: Trust me. I am not a hired stranger who cares nothing about you. I am someone who knows and loves you and has your best interests at heart.
Okay, I’m almost afraid to say this, because I don’t want to reduce Faith to some touchy-feely, kumbaya, personal experience. When it comes to our emotions, they must always take a back seat to our intellect, and both of these to Church teaching. Yet I’m pretty sure that if most of us look deeply into our memories, we can recall an incident in which we were certain that Christ had a deep and intimate knowledge of us. These are what some have called “God-incidences” or “God-winks.” I myself have had two or three. Here is one.
During my college years, I happened to be a visitor at a prayer meeting, most of whose members I did not know. After some prolonged shared prayer, a woman stood up, pointed to me and said: “When I was praying for that young man over there, the strangest image came into my mind. I saw a large, sturdy tree that was cut down. The tree stump, I noticed, contained a hollow space filled with water, and growing out of the water there arose the most beautiful lily.” Okay, you’re thinking, big whoop-de-doo! What’s so special about that? Well, what no one in the room knew was that years earlier, when I was a young boy, my mother was doing some gardening. In the process, she dug up a clump of tiger lilies and, no longer wanting them, she tossed them onto the compost heap. Days later, I noticed that the clump of discarded lilies had put forth some brand-new blossoms. The plant had been deemed worthless, but it had insisted on blooming. Because I felt sorry for the lilies, guess where I planted them: in the hollow of an old backyard tree stump! There, in this natural planter, they thrived year after year. I don’t think you’ll blame me if I took the woman’s vision as a sign that a loving God was watching over my life.
My friend Maryellen White has had several God-incidences. For example, she says (and here I paraphrase):
Years ago, while cleaning out an upstairs closet at home, I found an old, forgotten purse. At the bottom of the purse, I discovered one stale cigarette from the years when I used to smoke. I had quit the habit long ago. Try as I might, however, I could not get the old cigarette out of my mind. It was as if the thing was calling to me. Well, I decided to have that cigarette come hell or high water, and I began planning the perfect crime.
The next day, as soon as my husband Bob was off to work and my kids were gone to school, I grabbed that old cigarette, jumped into my red SUV and went for my joy ride. Minutes later, I was bopping on down the highway to my favorite music and taking drags on the cigarette. It tasted awful, but I didn’t care. It was as though I were playing hooky, and I loved every minute of it.
Well, I got back to the house and aired out the SUV with the help of Febreze. I brushed my teeth and gargled with mouthwash. I took a shower and changed my clothes. I had covered all my tracks, and no one would be the wiser. Nothing could go wrong. Or so I thought!
The following morning our local newspaper ran a front-page story on a section of highway that was slated for major reconstruction. Naturally the article included an aerial photograph. There, in the center of the picture, was my SUV cruising down the very highway on which I had driven the day before. It was as if God were saying to me, I know who you are. You can’t get away with anything!
As I said, I’m willing to bet that a good number of you are able to relate similar apparent divine affirmations in your own lives. Today would be a good day to recall them, share them with a trusted friend, and remind yourselves that Jesus the Good Shepherd really does know and love you.
What if, you ask, I cannot recall any such divine affirmations? Well, maybe there were God-incidences that you’ve forgotten. Perhaps you’ve been too distracted to see them. Maybe the God-winks are yet to come. Perhaps your faith is so strong that God does not think it necessary that you be hit over the head with signs of His love.
The point is that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows each one of us intimately and loves each one of us deeply. Our Lord’s love is more delicious than home cooking, more reassuring than the best of traveling companions, and more healing than the most advanced medicine.
 John 10:11-15.