On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, I want to tell you two of my favorite stories.
The first is about a pop quiz that was given to a new class of nursing students in the first year of their training. Most of the students did well on the quiz until they came to the last question, which they all left blank. That question was, “What is the name of the woman you see every morning who cleans our section of the school?” The students thought that the question was a joke. But when they got their papers back, every one of them was marked off for the question. They protested. The professor said, “Her name is June. In your careers you will meet many people. All of them are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you can do is smile and say “hello.” The students never forgot the lesson, or June’s name.
To be a disciple of Jesus demands that we respond to every person the same way the Good Shepherd responds to all. Every person possesses the sacred dignity of being a child of God. Just as, aside from Jesus, every baby born is the most important baby ever born, every person is a unique reflection of God and deserving of the love and care of the Lord’s presence on earth through us.
This is the reason why the charity of the Christian must reach beyond his or her own family and friends, beyond the parish family and even beyond the family of citizens of their country. We have to be concerned about those who are hurt, starving, suffering or dying throughout the world. Our charity cannot be limited by anything including the parameters of our faith community. Blessed Mother Theresa, for example, reached out to the poor of Calcutta and throughout the world. Most of these people were Hindi, not Christian. All of these people are made in the image and likeness of God.
Jesus said, “I have other sheep who are not of this fold. These also I must lead and they will hear my voice.” Who was He referring to? Was he speaking about others outside of his disciples immediate group? Was he speaking about non-Jews, the gentiles who would become fervent Christians? Was He speaking about all good people, searching for Truth? Or was He simply speaking about all people in the world, all are made in the image and likeness of God? We have to assume it is the last group. All people belong to God, even those who continually run from Him. There is still time for them to return to Him. They need us to point to where happiness can be found, to point to God and to support their efforts to reach them. They need us to let them know by our actions that they are part of the Lord’s flock.
It is easy to say that we need to reach out to others, but this is often difficult to do. Perhaps we all do this. We might be on the run and totally oblivious to a neighbor who is rather down in the dumps. Or you parents might be so caught up in the hectic schedule that your kids have, bringing this one to baseball, that one to gymnastics, dance, school meetings, etc, that you might not notice that one of your children has needs far greater than all the activities you provide for him or her. To make matters worse, children and Teens tend to need our support the most when we are the busiest. This also applies to our young people in school. You have detailed schedules, things you want to do. Usually, it is when you are running from one place to the next, that someone desperately needs your time. Following the Good Shepherd requires our never being too busy to be aware of and to respond to those around us who need help.
The second story also relates to the presence of the Good Shepherd in our lives. It is the story of Marie, a little blind girl, nine years old, living with her father in one of those large New York City apartment buildings. Her father went out to the store to pick up a few things and left her watching, listening actually, to the TV. He spent more time there then he expected. When he returned the street in front of the building was full of fire trucks. He looked up, and to his horror, it was his section of the building that was ablaze. And there, on the ledge outside the window of his apartment, was Marie, huddled into a ball. Terrified. The fire fighters could not maneuver the ladder truck in such a way to reach the girl, so they set up a net and told her to jump. She was frozen in fear. Then her father took a bull horn and called to her. “Marie, Daddy’s here. I’ll take care of you. You need to jump when I tell you. Are you ready?” Marie stood up and said, “I’m ready.” Then he shouted, “OK, you have to jump on three. One, Two, Three.” Marie jumped. She was so completely relaxed that she didn’t even strain a muscle from the four story fall. All because she trusted the voice that she knew loved her.
There is a voice calling to us to jump. Sometimes the noise of our lives is so loud, that we don’t hear this voice. But the voice is still there. We need to hear it. It is the voice of the Good Shepherd. It is the voice of Jesus speaking to us in the quiet of our hearts, in the love or our family and friends, in the cries of all calling out to us. The voice of the Good Shepherd calls out to us calmly and lovingly. He tells us to take the jump, the leap of faith. He tells us to trust in Him because He is taking care of us.
The Good Shepherd is the Risen Lord. He is with us. He will never leave us alone. Today we ask this Lord to allow us to slow down and hear his voice.