Sunday, April 26, 2015

Which Jesus is Your Shepherd?

(Fourth Sunday of Easter (B): This homily was given on April 26, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 4: 8-12; 1 John 3: 1-2; John 10: 11-18.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Easter 2015]

Every Christian will say, “Jesus is my shepherd.”

And that’s good; every Christian should say that!

But that assertion still leaves one very important question unanswered: WHICH JESUS is the person talking about?  Of all the Jesuses that are out there—of all the Jesuses that they could possibly be following in this life—which one ARE they actually following?  Which Jesus is truly their personal shepherd?

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “But Fr. Ray I thought there was only one Jesus—the one who called himself “the Good Shepherd” in the gospel text we just heard from John, chapter 10.”

Well, yes, that’s true.  There is only one Jesus who is, in fact, the Good Shepherd.  There is, in other words, only one REAL Jesus.

But there are a lot of other Jesuses out there that people follow these days—false Jesuses; counterfeit Jesuses—and the sad reality is that many of them have a larger following than the real one does!

I’ll give you some examples.

First we have what I would call the ‘feel good Jesus’.  The only thing this Jesus does is give people a warm and fuzzy feeling on the inside.  He doesn’t challenge them; he doesn’t criticize them; he doesn’t ask them to change in any way.  He’s like a drug they take when they want to feel good about themselves and about the way they’re currently living.  I suppose another way to describe this Jesus is the ‘happy pill Jesus’.

And then we have the ‘non-judgmental Jesus’ (who might be classified as the ‘first cousin’ of the feel good Jesus!).  This is the Jesus that the mainstream media actually accused Pope Francis of following after he made that statement, “Who am I to judge?” in an interview he gave early on in his pontificate.

Of course, they took his statement completely out of context!

The Holy Father was speaking specifically in that interview about priests who may experience same sex attraction in their lives, but who are striving to be chaste.  And in that context he said—and here’s the complete sentence: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

He was not condoning sin there!  He was basically saying exactly what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, and what John Paul II and Benedict XVI and every other modern pope has said: that it’s no sin to experience same sex attraction! 

The sin comes in certain activities of a sexual nature which are associated with the attraction. 

Of course, the fact of the matter is that heterosexual men and women can also commit serious sins of a sexual nature in their lives.

That fact is often left out of the discussion—especially when the discussion takes place in the mainstream media.

By the way, I should add that if most of the people in the mainstream media would approve of the Jesus you are currently following as your shepherd, you can be certain that you’re following the wrong one.

The real Good Shepherd didn’t condemn people, but he did convict people of their sin—often—as the scribes and Pharisees would certainly attest!  Our Lord judged their actions and convicted them of their sins lots of times! 

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites …!”

Remember when he said that to them?

And speaking of condemning other people, there are actually some Christians who follow a false Jesus who, sad to say, is most accurately described as the ‘hateful Jesus’.  Ever hear of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas?  This church has made national news a number of times over the years because its members often picket public events holding up signs and banners that say things like, “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates gay people” (although their signs usually refer to gay people with a much more vulgar term—which I won’t mention). 

Yet another false Jesus.

And then there’s what I would call the ‘irrelevant Jesus’.  This is the Jesus who has nothing to say about current moral or social issues.  He lives in the church building, comes out for an hour on Sunday morning (or Saturday night) to be with his people; then he gets locked up and is silent for the rest of the week.

This is the false Jesus who is followed by all those Catholic politicians who are fond of saying, “I am a Catholic, but …” It’s also the Jesus who is followed by those people who criticize their priests for speaking from the pulpit about abortion or physician-assisted suicide or some other contemporary issue, and who thus accuse them of being too “political”.

Lest we forget, the real Jesus—the real Good Shepherd—talked about moral issues all the time!  He even talked about the moral obligation to pay your taxes (which hopefully everyone here did as of the 15th of this month!—unless, of course, you got an extension).

And finally, there’s the very popular ‘modern-love Jesus’ who is shepherding lots and lots of people in the Western world right now.  This is the false Jesus who teaches people to use others for pleasure, and that everything is acceptable as long as it happens between two consenting adults.  I don’t know whether or not Hugh Hefner claims to be a Christian, but if he did make that claim then I would say this is definitely the false Jesus he follows, the false Jesus who functions as his personal shepherd.

The real Jesus Christ—the real, genuine Good Shepherd—is the one that the Church has preached and that true Catholics have followed for 2,000 years.  Yes, it’s true, he sometimes he does give us a warm and fuzzy feeling on the inside (and that’s always nice when it happens!), but at other times he makes us feel uncomfortable by challenging us to be better disciples.  The real Good Shepherd won’t condemn us during our earthly life—just like he didn’t condemn the woman in John 8 who’d been caught in adultery.  But he WILL convict us of our sins, just like he convicted her of her sin!  Remember his parting words to her were, “Nor do I condemn you.  You may go, but from now on avoid this sin.”

The real Good Shepherd never hates—soldiers, gays or anyone else!  He’s ALWAYS relevant; and he teaches us about true love, not the modern-Hugh Hefner version of it.  And he expresses the essence of that love in today’s gospel passage when he says, “I will lay down my life for my sheep.”  Or, as he said later in John, chapter 15: “Greater love no one has, than to lay down his life for his friends.”

Let me close now by stating what should be obvious: It’s very easy to follow one of those counterfeit good shepherds that I just spoke about in this homily; it’s very hard to follow the real one!

But it’s worth making the effort to do so—it’s worth ALL the effort!—because, as St. Peter reminds us in today’s first reading, only the REAL GOOD SHEPHERD can save us.