During the current retreat season at St. Paul’s, many of the talks have to do with what it means to hear Jesus speak of being the Good Shepherd. Can we trust in His love and care for us? Can we really believe Him when He says, “I know mine, and mine know me?” But as our second reading from 1 John basically says, that is the way it is. We are truly children of God! We are truly loved by God! We are truly cared for as zealously as sheep are cared for by a good shepherd.
But there are times when that trust and belief can be put to the test. When Jesus uses the image of a good shepherd to tell the people who He is for them, He refers to His Passion and death: “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” In the second part of our Gospel reading, Jesus speaks more about laying down His life: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”
As I reflected on this, I wondered if, in Jesus, we also have the power to lay down our lives and take them up again. In some ways, we have seen that happen. We know people who have willingly chosen to make sacrifices, even to the point of giving their lives, for the sake of another. We have had, in our culture, an image of picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and starting over (one of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs is “That’s Life”), and we have seen it happen. But I also thought of the people who may understandably feel that their lives have been taken away from them, and they have no power to do anything about it: refugees and victims of abuse and torture and human trafficking, and even caretakers of sick and elderly relatives. Can people in those situations really “take up” their lives again?
Our faith tells us “Yes!” And again, we have seen it happen. We have seen people who have been victims not refer to themselves as victims anymore, but as “survivors,” and have dedicated their lives to helping others in the same situation. When the young women testified about what Dr. Nassar did to them; when the church members in Charlotte forgave the one who killed their loved ones; when refuges have started a new life somewhere else; when that young woman who was shot by Boko Haram, survived, and not only continued her education but has brought hope to many others, they all have taken up their lives again.
I don’t believe we can do this kind of thing totally on our own. For me, I can only do this with the love and grace from my Good Shepherd. The One who has the power to lay down His life and take it up again, has given me the power to do the same. There are times when I have been frustrated by the fact that I “have” to do something for another, especially taking time for them. In those times I need to remember that I have been called to “lay down” my life for them. And when I remember that, I can be at peace. The only way some people may come to believe in a Good Shepherd is through us. In our first reading from Acts, Peter does not give John or himself credit for healing a crippled man, he testifies to the love and power of Jesus.
When we “lay down” our lives for another, we do it not only in the name, but in the love, of Jesus. May we continue to follow the commandment we have received from our Good Shepherd who knows and loves each and every one of us.
In the Risen Christ,
Fr. Phil, CP