Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Easter Year C

Numbers. Our lives are filled with numbers. Each year we file our income taxes. Now that's an exercise in numbers to end all numbers games. Pages upon pages of numbers: earned numbers, spent numbers, invested numbers, and saved numbers. When it is finally prepared, we send it off to the Internal Revenue Service with our Social Security number on it. And the IRS takes all those numbers and puts them into a computer, along with the numbers of thousands and thousands of other people. And to them, we become a number.

The government knows us by our tax number. The state knows us by our driver's license number. The bank knows us by our account number. When we retire, we'll be remembered by our Social Security number. And it goes on and on. In fact, sometimes I wonder if anybody knows us at all without a number!

And that's why this morning's Gospel reading is so significant, because it tells us that God knows us. He knows us intimately, in fact, better than we know ourselves. That's important to remember. In spite of the fact that the image of sheep and shepherd is foreign to our experience, the words of
the Gospel this morning hearken for us a truth that our human hearts long to hear. The Old Testament writer put it even more clearly when he wrote, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." Jesus says it this morning, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me, and I give them eternal life."

The call of our Lord is "hidden" in a whole chorus of worldly voices which beckon us. Other would-be shepherds seek to tempt us away from the Good Shepherd, the joy of his forgiveness, and the security of his love. When we are weak and confused we may fall victim to the enticements of other gods.

I am reminded of an American tourist who was traveling in the
Middle East. He came upon several shepherds whose flocks had intermingled while drinking water from a brook. After an exchange of greetings, one of the shepherds turned toward the sheep and called out, "Manah. Manah. Manah." (Manah means, "follow me" in Arabic.) Immediately his sheep separated themselves from the rest and followed him.

Then one of the two remaining shepherds called out, "Manah. Manah." and his sheep left the common flock to follow him. The traveler then said to the
third shepherd, "I would like to try that. Let me put on your cloak and
turban and see if I can get the rest of the sheep to follow me."

The shepherd smiled knowingly as the traveler wrapped himself in the cloak, put the turban on his head and called out, "Manah. Manah." The sheep did not respond to the stranger's voice. Not one of them moved toward him. Will the sheep ever follow someone other than you?" The traveler asked.

"Oh yes," the shepherd replied, "sometimes a sheep gets sick, and then it will follow anyone."

We have seen it, haven't we? People, young and old, who are "sick." Battered by the storms of life and distracted by voices urging them to go this way and that, they have lost their bearings and they don't know where they are or where they are going. That can be more than a little frightening; it leads to despair, to hopelessness. And when someone is "sick" they will follow anyone who will promise a moment of happiness, a brief feeling of peace or forgetfulness, a sense that they are someone.

But the call of Jesus the Good Shepherd is, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." There is no better way, no greater truth, and no happier life. Our Lord reaches out to us in love that we might follow him.

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