Monday, March 31, 2014

Some thoughts on Shepherds: 4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday)

            There is a lot going on in our readings today with great spiritual and theological importance.
            To begin, I would like to share a little bit about one of my best friends—Fr. Albert Wugaa from the Diocese of Navrongo-Bolgatanga, Ghana.  I have had the privilege of going to seminary with him for four years and have visited him twice in Ghana, including on our recent trip.  You know how Fr. Rich and I banter back and forth—Fr. Albert and I are no different.  I call him “Sinner” and he calls me “Madman”!  Please don't tell him I said anything nice about him in public!
            Fr. Albert has an amazing life story.  He was uneducated until age twelve and grew up in the natural religion of his family and community.  He was eventually converted to the Lord through being educated at Catholic school.  What did he do as a child?  He was a shepherd—a great responsibility in his family as the flocks were a source of food and revenue.  And he was only a boy!  I think of what I was doing as a child—I was causing havoc at home and playing Nintendo at my friend’s house. 
It has been cool speaking to Fr. Albert about how being a shepherd formed him as a man and now a priest.  He learned early that his job was to feed, water and protect the animals and this required more of him than a 9-5 job.
            I mention this because our first two reading feature shepherds.  Samuel was called to anoint the next king of Israel.  He approached the sons of Jesse and had in his mind who would be the king—the oldest.  Yet God shows Samuel an important fact, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.”  Not one of seven older sons was chosen to be king, but rather David.  And he was a shepherd.  He was charged to nourish and protect the sheep.  Later he reported that he killed lions and bears for the sake of his flock—and he didn’t have a deer rifle to do it but a sling.
            David became the greatest king of the Old Testament.
            Then we prayed Psalm 23—“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  We rejoice—on this Laetare Sunday—in our Shepherd who ensures that we are nourished, guided and protected not only physically but spiritually.
            Then came this beautiful passage from John 9 in which Jesus heals a man born blind.  What is interesting to note is that this passage comes one chapter before Jesus fulfills the prophecies and metaphors about shepherds in declaring, “I am the Good Shepherd” in John 10.  And what is Jesus doing in John 9?  Seeking after one of the lost sheep of his flock.
            The man born blind was isolated from the world in his inability to see.  Not only did this cause a physical isolation, but a spiritual.  Note the question Jesus’ disciples asked about this man: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?  This was a valid question according to the Old way of attributing any calamity, disease or evil to personal or national sin.  Yet Jesus rebukes this understanding: “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”  Jesus heals this man physically and in so doing feeds him, nourishes him and protects him spiritually.
            And the blind man comes to believe in the Good Shepherd.  Like the Samaritan woman at the well we heard about last week, his growing-faith can be seen from the way he addresses Jesus.  First, he knows his name—“Jesus.”  He states to the doubters that he must not be a sinner, because no sinner could heal physical blindness.  He calls him a prophet.  Finally, when speaking to Jesus directly, he states his faith: “I do believe, Lord.”
            Today we rejoice in the Good Shepherd.  The same one who healed the man born blind wants to heal us.  He wants us to be fed both spiritually and physically.  He protects us from all danger material and spiritual, especially from sin and death.  And he searches us out at every moment.
            Are we faithful shepherds in our own lives?  Each of us has people under our care whether an employee, spouse, child or friend.  As we seek to feed, guide and protect these people in a human sense, do we also do so in their spiritual lives?  Do we show employees the goodness of God?  Do we protect our children from temptation, evil and sin?  Do we bring others to Jesus?  To the Sacraments?
            We have great reason to rejoice today.  God faithfully shepherds His flock.  Do we faithfully shepherd ours?

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