O Good Shepherd, seek me out, and bring me home to your fold again. Deal favorably with me according to your good pleasure, till I may dwell in your house all the days of my life, and praise you for ever and ever with them that are gathered there. Amen. (St. Jerome, c 342 - 420)
It is a most serene & powerful image: The Good Shepherd. It is probably the one description that most Christians can see in Jesus. The lovely stained glass window, reminds us of those words:
As Alice Camille writes, "Jesus says his sheep hear his voice, which means we are all called. Whether we listen is another matter. But the call is issued broadly. We are called into union with God. We are called into relationship with each other. We are called to work for the harvest and to produce the work of our hands ... for each of us receives the invitation to holy living. How we live that out will vary greatly, but that doesn't mean God desires anyone of us less than another. Which means our lives matter - a lot. What we do with our time and energy and love matters. Our decisions count. We ought to be on a spiritual journey and not be halfhearted about it. God isn't a hobby but our ultimate destiny." ("Hear My Voice" by Alice Camille, 2001)
Jesus contrasts his call and his role to that of the hired hand, who does it out of money, who does it for self but not out of love for the sheep, who flees when the going gets tough. Responsibility, honor, faith only play a role as it benefits the hired hand.
But the Good Shepherd who died on the cross does not expect payment, what he expects is a relationship, a relationship not based on fear or reward but on love, hope, faith.
We follow Jesus the Good Shepherd to find wholeness in our relationship with God and one another, we do it because we know that in God's eyes we are all children of God.
So what does it mean to live as one of those sheep following the Good Shepherd? How are we to emulate the Good Shepherd and not the hired hand? Two stories…
Andre Kudime was lay catechist at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Megumeto, Mozambique in the early 20th century. It was a time when the Roman Catholic Church did not allow other Christian religions to worship openly in MZ. Kudime was a young catechist (teacher of the faith) who called the community to worship by striking an iron beam that was hung from a tree branch - a very effective church bell. The authorities told him to stop ringing the bell and he refused. As punishment they made him carry the iron beam on his back to the main road, some 15 km away and to carry it back to Megumeto. On his return he was told not to ring the bell again. He said that he had paid his penance and he would ring the bell. For his defiance he was forced into military service and sent to the Portuguese colony of Macao, off the coast of China. He said that when he returned he would ring the bell again. He did return to Mozambique after his exile. He served this congregation as catechist, and bell ringer, until his death in 1981. (The iron beam still hangs there to call the faithful today!)
He followed the Good Shepherd and refused to be the hired hand and run away or back down, even when threatened.
Kayla Mueller was a young woman of extraordinary generosity and courage. Her family and friends remember her constant drive to make things better for others. After she graduated from Northern Arizona University, Kayla worked with humanitarian aid groups in Northern India, Israel and Palestine. She returned home to Arizona for one year, in 2011, spending her time at an HIV/AIDS clinic and volunteering at a women's shelter at night.The refugee crisis in Syria compelled her to travel to the Syrian/Turkish border three years ago to work with the group Support to Life. An Arizona newspaper chronicled her work with children in the camps. Recounting how she was able to reunite a father and his six-year-old son after a bombing, Kayla told the reporter: "For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal, something we just accept. It's important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it, and how privileged we are."Two months after the article was published, Kayla disappeared. Kayla was in the Islamic State’s custody for 18 months when she was killed in February of 2015.As her family members have said repeatedly, Kayla did more in her 26 years than many do in a lifetime. She wrote to her father in 2011:"I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you…I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering."But Kayla did not believe that God wills suffering or that suffering is, of itself, somehow "noble." In a letter to her parents while imprisoned in Syria, she wrote:"I have been shown in darkness, light, and have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it." [From "Kayla Mueller's encounter with a suffering God" by Jamie Manson, National Catholic Reporter, February 12, 2015.]
Kayla Mueller's compassion and courage, her vision of a world in which all men, women and children belong to one another, and her role to relieve their suffering, like that of Andre Kudime who understood his role as a teacher of the faith and who couldn’t run away from his calling even when threatened, each mirror Jesus's image of the Good Shepherd
To be a disciple of Jesus is not to be the hired hand who seeks to be compensated, who is concerned only with his/her own welfare or reward. Followers of Jesus, the Risen One, realize that every person possesses the sacred dignity of being a child of God and rejoices in knowing that in serving others they serve God.
In embracing the Gospel attitude of humility and compassion for the sake of others, in laying down our own lives for our fellow sheep, we will one day take up our lives again in that Easter promise and join the Good Shepherd within his fold. Amen.