Apr 16, 2016

4th Sunday of Easter: Hear, Listen, and Follow

(Sunday Scriptures - click on picture to the right)

Our political process this year without a doubt has been rough and tumbles.  As each candidate positions themselves for attention among the essential qualities any of them need is the ability to be heard.  As politics has been called “the art of persuasion,” so each candidate has attempted to persuade their hearers to a certain viewpoint.  They try to convince us through multiple means of modern communication, that we should hear their voice and follow what they say. So we hear things on twitter, facebook, video, emails, and texting.

Yet, before we can follow anyone, we want to know: Can I trust them? Is what they are saying or promising reasonable? What is their character like?  Are they just all talk or do they also walk the talk?  What do others say about them?  Maybe a host of other questions but until I’m convinced that “you’re the one” I’m going to remain skeptical. 

This Sunday in the midst of our beautiful Easter season, our scripture presents one who likewise is engaged in the art of persuasion; not politics but an invitation to a whole new way of life.  Unlike any politician, this One has far more possibilities to change the world – and he already has. 

In our Gospel from John 10: 27-30, we hear: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  Every politician would love to be able to say – “they follow me!”  We join political parties and we vote for particular candidates and issues based upon our own personal beliefs.  We could define ourselves by politics but this Easter Sunday we are invited to define ourselves by the One we follow – Christ, the shepherd who makes promises to us far beyond what any human being could make. 

The brief Gospel passage continues the image of the shepherd we always hear on this fourth Sunday of Easter and it defines us as “sheep” who “hear my (Jesus’) voice.” For we follow this shepherd not because he makes exaggerated promises or belongs to one political persuasion that we align ourselves with.  Rather, we follow him because he calls to us and when he does, the voice of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit is clearly at work.  Jesus’ invitation to follow is a reassurance of God’s own care for us, his sheep.  When Christ speaks, God speaks.  And this shepherd has paid the ultimate price for us, his sheep; that of his own life.

So, this Sunday is a call to us to hear the voice of the shepherd, to listen to what he has said in word and action, and to follow with trust and confidence that he will never abandon us, his sheep.

Our first reading from Acts of the Apostles 13, illustrates how reliable the voice of this shepherd is to those who follow.   Paul and Barnabas, the two great missionaries of the Gospel to the non-Jewish, gentile, world were met at first with great success among their fellow Jews.  But that momentary success also encountered great opposition from the Jewish leaders who rebuked Paul’s admiring crowds with “violent abuse” and “ contradicted what Paul said.”

Filled with determination that the words of the shepherd they preached were the “instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth,” Paul courageously dismissed this violent opposition and moved on to the Gentiles, who continued to embrace the new Way of Christ. The message of the shepherd will not be deterred as the risen Lord who ministers and speaks through his own chosen human leaders and through his Church. 

As we journey with renewed Easter faith, what kind of sheep are we?  Are we the ones who hear, listen and follow?  Or do we sit on the sidelines, waiting only for the good and comfortable? What about our political ties?  Although it is among the two topics we dare not discuss in public, religion and politics, whose voice do we follow when it runs in opposition to what Christ teaches about life, marriage, the economy, justice, the needs of the poor, and our global sense that we are one human family as brothers and sisters created by the same God? 

So, we cannot be sheep who just blindly follow; who simply follow but never listen or hear what the shepherd says.  He offers us the courage of our convictions, think of Paul and Barnabas. 

In our Eucharist, the shepherd calls through his Word and his Body.  He reminds us that are all his sheep and we can’t simply put on the blinders for his voice is extended to everyone and so must our witness.  Hear what he says, listen carefully with hope and trust, and then follow as his witness.  

For he is the true Lamb
who has taken away the sins of the world' by dying he has destroyed our death,
and by rising, restored our life.
Therefore, overcome with paschal joy,
every land, every people exults in your praise.

(From: Easter Preface I)