Fourth Sunday of Easter B
April 25, 2021
John 10: 11-18
By Rev. John Tran
When we think of this passage we often reflect on the shepherd; how the shepherd who owns the sheep stands by his flock, while the hired hand will run away and leave the sheep to the wolves. But today, I’d like us to think also of the sheep, for we are the sheep, after all.
We often feel like sheep, but for the wrong reason. When we go to the bank, we are only an account number; when we go to the hospital, we are only a patient number; or when we go to file our income tax, we are only an Internal Revenue number; or, in the Church, we can be seen as clergy religious or laity, or that we hold this or that position. We can feel less than human; we feel like we are not really known for who we are.
But think of the gospel today: we are known to the shepherd, in fact we are known by name. None of God’s people are just a number, none are faceless and nameless, simply a placeholder. We are to God a unique individual with a name and a history, a life story. We are not only known and recognized by Christ as different from any other person, we are valuable enough to be loved by him.
Isn’t this a huge thought when we actually sit down and think about it. Each one of us is completely known to Jesus. Think of all the things you like about yourself: all your virtues, your strengths, and the temptations you have resisted, the challenges you have met, the good deeds done, your successes, which no one else knows about.
Now, what about all the things about yourself that you do not like, which you try hard to keep hidden: the weaknesses, the fears, the vices that are more embarrassing than evil. These are the things that we think will make us less loved and less respected if anyone knew.
Well, all this is known to God. Each virtue in each of us is known by Jesus Christ. The world may not know or be impressed by our personal struggles or the good we do, but Jesus does.
And the weaknesses too. The great truth is that Christ loves and calls by name, weak, foolish, and fearful people. He does not despise us or find us contemptible for our faults. Jesus knows human nature too well for that. Look at King David who did almost any sin we can think of, and yet, David was probably the closest human being to God in the Old Testament, and most loved by God in spite of what David did wrong. David always turned back to God and reformed his life. It was one long process.
God does call us from our faults, of course. He encourages , leads, and shepherds us away from them. But even that, most often, is a gentle and loving process. There is, finally, only one measure of what we are, any of us, and that is the great truth that Christ calls each one of us by name. He is, after all, the Good Shepherd. What can we do but follow his voice? His voice and his actions teach how to love, to forgive, and how to treat the most insignificant or despised as Jesus himself.
There is a news story that shows how the sheep can learn from the shepherd. It recounts this incident in Baghdad in 2003:
Across town, by 10 a.m., the line outside Baghdad Bakery had grown to 1,000 people … People were leaving the bakery with bread, 20 long rolls for 500 dinars, or about 18 cents. Before the war, this couldn’t have happened. Baghdad Bakery made bread only for Saddam Hussein’s Special Republican Guard. Now, the bread was for the city’s poor. Amera Ibraheem counted the baked loaves and placed them in plastic bags. She’s worked for the bakery 30 years. She said people were worried about the bakery’s future. They were down to a three-day supply of flour and had no idea where to find more. But, she added, everyone was committed to keeping the bakery open. As Baghdad fell and the bakery’s Baath Party manager fled with the workers’ salaries, the employees arrived for work. They set up a system in which they would sell the bread inexpensively and share the profits. On Sunday, the manager returned to the factory, escorted by two bodyguards. He demanded all the money the bakery had earned, and the bread. He planned to sell it to the city’s wealthier residents. The workers chased the manager and his guards away, warning them not to come back.
The enterprising employees of Baghdad Bakery, who worked to ensure that the much-needed bread would reach the starving poor of the devastated city, have the heart of the Good Shepherd mentioned in the Gospel of John. Their selfless concern to help their own people contrasts with the selfish and detestable attitude of the manager who is bent on fleecing the helpless poor. — This news account from war-torn Baghdad helps us understand the relevance of the Gospel reading of this Sunday, called “the Good Shepherd Sunday,” Indeed, this Iraqi situation gives us a glimpse of the different roles mentioned by John in his account: The Good Shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep and the hired man who works only for pay and has no concern for the sheep. The Shepherd leads us to be like himself, if only we heed the call of his voice. The starving and war-battered citizens of this city are not just a number to these bakers. Are we ready to take up the challenge the Good Shepherd lays at our feet?