Benedictine University and MySpiritualAdvisor.com’s Mark Kurowski reflects on how the Good Shepherd is offensive to the religious ear.  “I would have killed him, too,” is how Kurowski feels when reading this passage in its context.  Why would a devout Christian feel like he would have killed Christ, too?  Listen to this podcast to find out why. These questions and more are answered in this audio. Contact us to make a comment, we may post it at the end of the text of this reflection.  Please read John 10:11-18.

{mp3}B 33 2012 04 Easter{/mp3)

For Benedictine University and MySpiritualAdvisor.com, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 4/29/2012The 4th Sunday of Easter.

Please pause this audio and read John 10:11-18.
    I think if I heard Jesus’ words in the context in which they were given, I would have wanted to kill him, too.
Jesus said these words in Jerusalem.  He said them to people who were holy by their religion’s standards.  They kept the laws.  They followed the dietary restrictions.   They followed the liturgical norms to a “T”. They believed that God is the great “I AM,” Yahweh, a name that was so holy they wouldn’t even say it.  They knew that God was going to send them a messiah, an anointed one, just like he sent Moses and David.  They believed that God was and is active in history.
All of these things that they believed were holy and good things.  There wasn’t anything that was all too bad about them.  They had a deep sense of right and wrong.  They knew the questions to ask.  Right after this passage, which the assigned reading ends in 18 unfortunately,  the people that John refers to as “the Jews” ask him, “Are you the Messiah?” Jesus, infuriatingly says, “I told you, and you do not believe.” I would have been outraged.  What do you mean, “you told us?”  All you did was talk about you, a human being, are the “Good Shepherd.” Then the lightbulb would have went on in my head and I would have wanted him dead.
You see there are two things I have to point out.  First, is that this passage is alluding to the passage in Ezekiel 34 which says that God is fed up with the leaders of the Jews.  He is fed up with them because they are more interested in power, being right, and deciding who is in and who is out.  God is so fed up with them, he has decided that he will go around the human leaders he has picked and will be a shepherd to the people of Israel himself, without priests, elders, Pharisees and Sadducees.  By Jesus saying, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he is saying that he is God.
Secondly, I am a person who wants to follow God and I want to be right in my teaching.  In my younger days, I wanted to know the truth and teach it.  I would’ve been a prime candidate to be a person who would have known the laws, known the prophets, know the structures of religious authority and respected them.  If Jesus had presented himself to me when I was young, then I would have been a person that would have wanted Jesus to be dead and purity would have been restored in my mind.
Who is this mad man? The people John refers to as “the Jews” ask.  They are outraged that a human being would have presented himself as God.  It would have been horribly hard to believe in such a person.  It would have been understandable that those who loved the idea of God and the idea of righteousness would have wanted to root out a person like Jesus.  He would have been too radical (to the liberals) and too liberal (to the conservatives).  
In living out the faith, I wonder if we sometimes don’t fall into the trap of being in love more with what Jesus was about than being in love with Jesus.  This was a fear of Benedict XVI in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. He was afraid that we would walk through our faith like automotons, not having a relationship with the person of Jesus.  St. Anselm, who I quote often, said that “God is that which is greater than that which can be thought.” In other words, when we think we have God cornered and understand him fully, then we find out that God eludes us. God is beyond us.
When I went on a Cursillo type retreat, I had the most wonderful experience.  I discovered a closeness to God that I could never have experienced without being so open to God and freed from having to be concerned about my personal affairs.  On a Cursillo, the sponsor takes care of all of your earthly cares so that you can be totally open to what God wants to have happen in your life.  Unfortunately, what happens AFTER the retreat is that we often think that everyone needs to experience what we experienced on that retreat to really “get it.” Yet, what I have discovered is that God comes to different people in different ways.  He speaks to them, leads them, and encourages them in ways I could have never imagined.  Would you be so bold as to say that unless someone experiences God in exactly the same way you have experienced God that they are deficient?  Of course, you wouldn’t.
For me, personally, what is more deflating about this passage of Jesus coming in a way that was foretold, but not expected, is that we discover that it points to how we, who think we are close and open to God, are not open to God.  We discover that we often try to put God in a booth to preserve our own experience of God.  We tend to understand the way God approaches others with contempt because it doesn’t fit our concept of how Jesus interacts with his people.
The Second Vatican Council, for all the ways in which people rail against its application, did one amazing thing, if not many others.  The Second Vatican Council validated that God is able to be discerned by people other than us.  We still believe that we have the fullest expression of God.  Who else has God coming as a human being who voluntarily lowers himself to be killed by his own creation?  Who else understands that God came to die for us and not just demand from us?  These things being true, there is an admiration we should have for our Jewish brothers and sisters in faith who have kept the faith for so long.  These things being true, we need to have an admiration for the strict moral code of our brothers and sisters of humanity, the Muslims.  These things being true, we should have a respect for Hindus and Buddhists who understand the profound spiritual meditation with which God speaks to us.  Most of all, we ought to listen to our protestant brothers and sisters who share with us the knowledge that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God can use anyone, even his enemies, to speak truth to the faithful. It is humbling to say the least.  Yet, to say that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we must be open to allowing God to show us his way, not our way.  Looking at Ezekiel 34 as the forerunner of this passage, I would warn us that the way of God is filled with mercy and compassion for those who want to be close to him, but are lost.
Some time ago, a young man sat in my office and told me that he was afraid that God didn’t love him anymore.  He was afraid that his sin was going to be a constant in his life and he could not escape.  He was afraid that all that his parents had taught him would mean that he was going to go to hell.  He didn’t know how he was going to recover his relationship with God.  What is the message that I should have given him?  What is it that I should have said to him?  What should have I done?
    I could only affirm that he had a wonderful sense of sin and self-evaluation.  I could only turn to him and say, “Do you know the voice of Jesus?”  He said, “Yes.”  I said, “What does that voice say?” He said, “It says, ‘I love you. Come follow me.”
    I cannot know if you are struggling with the pride and arrogance of the religious people of Jesus’ day.  I cannot know if you are struggling with a sin that you have committed for which you do not feel God could possibly forgive you.  I cannot know if you are a self-righteous person with an ego that never conceives that you are wrong.  What I do know is that Jesus Christ is calling you.  If you hear his voice, if you hear him calling out to you in mercy, forgiveness, in his own self-sacrifice of loving willingness to die for you, then you have heard the voice of the Good Shepherd.  I encourage you to follow.  Follow the one who lays down his life and go where he will lead you.  It may not be where you thought you were going, but he is leading you. Don’t kill him, but take his hand and find the peace and the love for your conflicted soul.  Amen?  Amen.

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