4th Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day)
May 11, 2014 – Year A
Readings: Acts 2:14A, 36-41, Psalm 23, 1 Pt 2:20B-25, Jn 10:1-10
by Rev. Mr. Ray Roderique, Permanent Deacon
There is a Mother’s Day story I thought you might enjoy. The story is in the autobiography of Jimmy Cagney, the famous Hollywood actor. It took place in his youth when his mother was very, very sick. Around her bed were the four Cagney boys and Jeannie, their only sister. Because of a stroke, Mrs. Cagney could no longer speak. After she had hugged each of her five children, she lifted her right arm, the only one that was still functioning. Jimmy describes what happened next: “Mom indicated Harry with the index finger of her useless hand, she indicated me with her second finger, she indicated Eddie with her third finger, and with her fourth finger indicated Bill. “Then she took the thumb, moved it to the middle of her palm, and clasped the thumb tightly under the other four fingers. Then she patted this fist with her good hand.”
Everyone knew what she meant. The four brothers were to protect Jeannie after their mother was gone. It was a gesture that no words could have duplicated in beauty or meaning. A mother’s love is like God’s love; God loves us not because we are loveable but because it is God’s nature to love, and because we are God’s children.
There is another story that parallels motherhood with shepherding. Some years ago a national magazine carried a story about an unusual girl named Laura Bell. After graduating from college, she took a job as a sheepherder in Wyoming. For the next three years, Laura was on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, tending 2,000 sheep. All this time she was completely alone except for her horse, her dog, and the sheep.
Once a week someone rode out to the distant hill country, where she pastured her sheep, to bring her food, mail, and rifle shells. Laura’s job taught her a lot about herself. The long hours alone gave her the time she needed to ponder her future, her doubts, her dreams. They also gave her the time to clarify her values and to set her goals. But Laura’s job did more than teach her a lot about herself. It also taught her a lot about Jesus.
The Bible uses the image of a shepherd to describe Jesus. And now Laura experienced firsthand why the Bible uses that image. She learned firsthand what the qualities of a good shepherd are. And what are those qualities?
First of all, a good shepherd is a totally committed person. A shepherd lives for the flock day after day, week after week, and month after month. Sheepherding isn’t just another job, like working in an office or clerking in a store. Sheepherding isn’t a job at all; it’s a way of life. You don’t shepherd sheep because it’s a job to earn a living. You shepherd sheep because it’s a job you love. Sounds a lot like motherhood doesn’t it? When Jesus called himself a good shepherd, he meant that he was committed to his flock 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In other words, all of his energies and concerns were for the flock entrusted to his care. Every moment of his life was dedicated to it.
This brings us to the second quality a shepherd must have. Besides being deeply committed, a shepherd must be a deeply caring person. A shepherd’s satisfaction is tied up with the welfare of the flock. When the flock is happy, the shepherd is happy. When the flock is in pain, the shepherd is in pain. There’s an old Jewish legend that explains why God chose Moses over all the other people on earth to shepherd his flock, Israel. One day Moses was shepherding some sheep that belonged to his father-in-law, Jethro. Suddenly he spotted a lamb darting off through the underbrush. Moses dropped everything and pursued it, lest it be killed by a wild animal or become lost. He finally caught up with the lamb at a tiny stream of water, where it began to drink feverishly. When it had finished, Moses scooped it up in his arms, saying, “Little one, I didn’t know you ran away because you were so thirsty. Your tiny legs must be tired.” With that, he placed the lamb on his shoulders and carried it back to the flock. When God saw how caring Moses was, he said to himself, At last, I’ve found the special person I have been searching for. I will make Moses the shepherd of my people, Israel.” It was this kind of person that Jesus was, also: gentle and caring about each member of his flock.
This brings us to the final quality a good shepherd must have. Besides being committed and caring, a shepherd must be courageous. There’s a story in the First Book of Samuel about how young David volunteered to fight the Philistine giant, Goliath. The king refused to let David do it, saying: “You are only a youth, while he has been a warrior from his youth.” David responded, saying: “Your servant used to tend his father’s sheep, and whenever a lion or bear came to carry off a sheep from the flock, I would go after it and attack it and rescue the prey from its mouth …. The LORD, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will also keep me safe from … this Philistine.” We all know how that story turned out. David defeated Goliath.
And so Laura Bell’s unusual job taught her a lot not only about herself but also about Jesus. It taught her why the Bible gave Jesus the title of the Good Shepherd. It was because he had to a perfect degree the three qualities every shepherd must have. He was committed, caring, and courageous. His sole concern was the flock his Father had entrusted to him. It taught her why Jesus is a model for all parents, all teachers, and others who have people entrusted to their care.
Let’s conclude by listening, again, to the words of today’s responsorial psalm: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage. “You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.”