April 25 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
Every year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, we hear John’s gospel of the good shepherd. It is easy to tune out because we have heard it so many times. But, Pope Francis’ strong emphasis on the link between mercy and evangelization has cast new light of the risen Christ as the Good Shepherd. In today’s Gospel, the risen Jesus gathers his disciples, who were scattered like sheep when he was arrested and executed. His first words to them are of peace – total forgiveness for their cowardice in his hour of need.
The image of lost sheep certainly describes many people today, including Catholics who have wandered away or feel abandoned by the church. The thought that someone is out searching for them, eager to rescue them from the brambles of human temptation and entanglement, to bind up their wounds, lift them up on strong shoulders and carry them home – is a comforting message.
Mercy is first aid, no questions asked. Pope Francis’ vision of a merciful church does not dismiss the need for justice or accountability; he simply puts mercy first. The prodigal son, the ultimate lost sheep, might never have come home if he thought his father would only scold, belittle and punish him. In his desolate state, the son must have sensed that his father was grieving for him and wanted him to turn homeward. In fact, the story suggest that it was the father’s longing, his daily walks to the gate to see if his son was on his way, that prompted the son to consider coming home.
The Good Shepherd will not give up on a single sheep. He knows each one by name, loves them so much he is willing to lay down his life to save each one. There is no talk of “cutting his losses” or the kind of “tough love” that lets a rebellious child suffer the consequences of his own actions before there can be any intervention or negotiated return home. God’s unconditional love leaps into action at the first sign of regret or repentance. As Pope Francis has said, “We tire of asking for God’s forgiveness, but God never tires of offering it.” God’s name is Mercy. God cannot do otherwise, for it is God’s very nature to love and forgive.
Todays’ Gospel is for anyone responsible for others. This includes parents, teachers, priests and bishops. Anyone entrusted with others who are vulnerable and need guidance has a model in the Good Shepherd.
Today’s world is in need of more Good Shepherd’s. Will you become one??
Have a Blessed Easter Season!