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Bishop's Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 22, 2018

[Holy Rosary Church, Paia (Confirmation)]

The gospel we just heard is obviously biased against wolves.  Wolves are clearly the villains in this story of the Good Shepherd.  But aren’t wolves God’s creatures?  Didn’t God make them as carnivores and give them the instinct of hunting for their food?  So why are we so down on them when they lick their chops at the sight of a tasty lamb?  Why does the good shepherd chase them away, sometimes risking his own life to do so (after all, for wolves, meat is meat)?  Why does Jesus criticize the hired shepherd who runs away and lets nature take its course, allowing the wolf to be a wolf, but keeping himself from becoming a meal?

Here is one of the reasons:  Sheep are raised and sold to support human beings (who, by the way, sometimes eat them!), so they have a value to human beings that a wolf does not have.  Not only are they raised and sold for their meat, but for their wool and other body parts, I am sure.  Moreover, there is a symbolic meaning to a sheep, because in a real way, they lay down their lives for us.  We feed them and care for them and protect them from predators, but ultimately we do so because they give themselves so that we might live in warmth and health.  And so, they are definitely worth protecting from wolves – which, after all, have other dietary choices in the wild.

But there is much more symbolism involved in this story than the supply and demand of food and commodities.  The Lord is our shepherd, human beings are the sheep, and the wolf that prowls about looking to devour the sheep is none other than the devil.  As Pope Francis recently pointed out, the devil is not just some myth or medieval idea, he is very real.  And while he is not a carnivore, he wants to devour our souls.  He wants nothing more than to snatch us away from the flock of Christ so that he can pervert us with his own perverted hatred and self-loathing.  But he is very clever.  He will often appear in the guise of a sheep or even a shepherd, luring the unsuspecting by proposing what seems to be good and pleasant, but ending by dragging us down to the depths of hell.

So, we see why wolves in this story of Jesus really are villains of the worst sort.  But Jesus, by offering himself as the Lamb to be devoured by Satan in all his injustice, sin, violence and hatred, actually tricked this sly wolf and made him ultimately toothless and ineffective by his resurrection from the dead.  By allowing himself, who is God and man, to be devoured, he turned Satan inside out and forever poisoned his insidious plans with his love.  So he is the Good Shepherd who will always lead us to good pastures and protect us from our enemies, as long as we do not stray away from him.

But there is more.  The flock that Jesus loves is so vast that he wanted other shepherds after his own heart to help him tend the flock and to lay down their lives in this combat with Satan so that others could live in Jesus.  And this is why God has chosen us and immersed us in the waters of his love.  This is why he anoints us with the Holy Spirit, which makes us as bold as Peter.  He, too, was attacked by Satan when he denied Jesus three times, but he repented and in today’s reading we see him boldly preaching to the very people who put Jesus to death under the influence of that worst of all wolves.  We, too, are often attacked by Satan and we fall prey to lust, to selfishness, to violence, and to sin.  But when we repent, the Spirit fills us to make us bold in confronting the wolf wherever we find him.  Then – miracle of miracles – the Lamb of God offers himself to us as food and drink in the Eucharist – so that his flesh can strengthen our flesh and his blood make us boil with the zeal of the Good Shepherd.

What we do here today is vital for the life of the world; and what we do here every Sunday by coming into physical communion with the risen Lord Jesus is the only thing that will keep the wolf of our souls from devouring the human race.  It is here that Jesus, the Lamb of God who became the Good Shepherd, turns us from lambs into shepherds, too, so that we may pasture all God’s flock along with Jesus.  This is our vocation in life.  This is our highest destiny as beloved children of God.

This wolf tries to devour us by convincing us that our sexuality is for our own pleasure rather than for the high destiny of genuine love that God created it for.  So the wolf tries to bite us with pornography, lustful and silly talk, and a false notion of love that is ultimately empty.  We must be good sheep and listen to the Lord’s voice which assures us we are capable of the self-control necessary to live our sexuality as God intends it to be lived.  But we must also be good shepherds in sharing this liberating news with others by our words and actions, even if the wolf should try to attack us for doing so (and he will!).

The wolf tries to snatch us away from the loving flock of the Church by convincing us that it is irrelevant, old fashioned, or corrupted.  And while we must acknowledge that is it not perfect, we must also acknowledge that it is the chosen Bride of Christ, the Lamb who laid down his life for her.  It is the fellowship of shepherds that Jesus has chosen to protect the rest of his flock from the perverse predator so that all may be one in him.

This story of the Good Shepherd and the other shepherds who assist him is no “long ago and far away” story, but is our story at this moment.  In debilitating poverty and ignorance, in injustices, in violence and addictions, the wolf is prowling after human souls and is definitely a villain.  But we have been chosen by God to be good shepherds with the Good Shepherd, so that all God’s sheep may ultimately lay down their lives willingly for one another, so that they can be taken up again and restored in the Lamb once slain who lives forever.