8 May 2022 at Saint William Catholic Church in Naples, FL
Acts of the Apostles 13, 14, 43-52 + Psalm 100 + Revelation 7, 9, 14-17 + John 10, 27-30
A sheepherder once said that “Sheep are born looking for a way to die.” They go into gullies, get tangled up in brambles, fall into ditches, and wander into the territory of predators. They are utterly defenseless. Even dogs and cats can find their way home, and dogs and cats can smell, find food, and defend themselves against danger or run from something bigger. You feed a dog, pet it, take it for walks, and the dog thinks: “Wow, this must be a god.” With a cat, feed it, care for it, and the cat thinks: “Wow, I must be god.” It is neither that way for sheep.
Sometimes when the Gospel speaks of sheep and shepherds, the emphasis is on the Shepherd. In this case, the emphasis is on the sheep. Rather than reveal something about the Shepherd, it speaks about us as the sheep, and our need to hear the voice of the Shepherd. It is a voice that speaks to the depths of our hearts, a voice that always calls us to metanoia, that powerful Greek word that means conversion, change which is a life-long effort to be renewed, converted, and different from the way we might like to be.
It is the comfortable, self-assured Hebrew people that were such a challenge and disappointment to Paul when he shares is feelings with the people of Rome. That minority of Jews in the Roman culture was steadfastly faithful to their old ways which were being challenged by the message of the Gospel Paul preached to them. The message of Paul is no different today. Openness to the new is what he asked of them and still asks of us.
Metanoia always begins with confusion, that uncomfortable feeling that my truth may not be completely right. For those who rejected Paul it was just easier to reject what was new rather than discern whether it was of God. Our Holy Father has suggested that sometimes in order to hear what the Lord asks of us we must free ourselves from false certainties. Growth, change, metanoia is always difficult, but it is a necessary part of life, and an essential feature of faith. We never stop growing deeper into our faith, and God is never finished with us. Refusing change risks closing our ears to the voice of the Shepherd.
We are reminded this week by the Word of God that following the Good Shepherd is often neither easy nor clear. The history of Israel and the history of the Church that is ever changing and ever new reminds us that God continually calls us to newness. We must be willing to let go of things we sometimes feel certain and “right” about if we want to hear the voice of the Shepherd today.
There is one thing we can be sure of. The Shepherd is always trying to lead us beyond where we are into greater, broader, deeper love, and that will often be unruly, confusing, and new.