Easter 04, Year A
- The Lamb ... will shepherd them (Rev. 7:17)
A 26-year old neighbor of ours, Anthony—a grade- and high-school classmate of the younger of our two sons—died in an accident early last Sunday morning. The news report in April 7, 2008 issue of the Times-Herald said that alcohol might have been a factor in the car crash in which neither another person nor another car was involved .
As evidenced by the many comments to the news report, there has been an outpouring of sympathy for the deceased and the members of his family. But there was no lack either of unsympathetic comments. One coming from MADD read: “Alcohol + Automobiles = Autopsy. Why should we feel sorry for someone who takes their [sic] own life while driving intoxicated?”
I have surely noticed that where in the past the subjunctive mood would be used, in the English language, that is, the indicative mood is now more commonly used. But I did not know English language usage could change so much that the phrase, “might have been a factor,” would be taken to mean, “was a factor”! Or perhaps MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) had the inside story nobody else had. Yet even if it be true that Anthony brought about his own death by driving intoxicated, one who is a Christian should not find, I don’t think, anything questionable in anyone feeling sorry for him. Jesus, after all, felt sorry and wept for those who would reap what they had sown because they did not recognize the time of God’s visitation and, of course, he even died for sinners (Lk. 19:41-44; Rom. 5:7-9).
The ability to feel sorry for the guilty and the readiness to die for sinners are distinguishing marks of the true and good shepherd. These traits make the true and good shepherd different from others who, for all the nobility and merit of their motives and agenda, are only out there ultimately for themselves, driven fundamentally by the instinct of self-preservation and survival.
The others are there to pasture themselves, feeding off the sheep’s milk and the fatlings’ meat, getting wool for their use from the sheep; it is not their primary concern either to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured or, much less, to bring back the strayed and seek the lost, who are only deserving of harshness and brutality, not pity, because they, by wandering off, put themselves at the risk of becoming food for the wild beasts (cf. Ez. 34:1-16; Jer. 23:1-5). Those who fall short of being true and good shepherds are not just about to endanger their lives for the sheep. They have no concern really for the sheep, for what matters to them first and foremost are their safety and security, their benefit and pay. They are shepherds who know no discretion, relentless as dogs in not knowing when they have enough, each of them going his own way, every one of them to his own gain (Is. 56:11; cf. Jer. 10:21).
The true and good shepherd, on the other hand, is there so that the sheep may have life and have it more abundantly. His being a shepherd is a calling, and not a job (cf. “Archbishop: Priesthood a Vocation, Not a Job,” Zenit.org). Hence, he looks out for every sheep, especially for one who is lost. Were profit the bottom line for the true and good shepherd, he would surely not leave the ninety-nine in the desert to go after the lost one (Lk. 15:1-7). Rather than look out for his own gain and profit, then, the true and good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep in order to prevent theft, slaughter and destruction. He does not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, and though a master and teacher indeed, he washes his followers’ feet nonetheless, so that what he does for them they may also do to each other (Mt. 20:28; Mk. 10:45; Jn. 13:13-15).
So then, the true and good shepherd is revealed in his service to others that ultimately leads to his breaking the bread of his body that is given up for others and taking the cup of his blood that is shed for all. And in doing likewise are his followers revealed as sheep who belong to the true and good shepherd’s fold. The true and good shepherd, therefore, is also the gate to the sheep. For unless the sheep go through that gate of sacrifice and self-emptying, there is neither identification nor communion with the self-sacrificing shepherd. Nor is there salvation unless one renounces the folly of finding pleasure in one’s own profit and wealth, since such one is herded like a sheep to Sheol, where death will be his shepherd (Ps. 49:14-15).
Anthony and we, are undoubtedly blessed, I am convinced, because the true and good shepherd, feeling sorry for us poor and sinners, was led to the slaughter like a lamb, so that our wounds might be healed and we might be saved from such generation as that which is made up of those who claim secret and privileged knowledge and object, saying something like, “Why should we feel sorry for anyone who is guilty of bringing evil upon himself?”