He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. (Acts of the Apostles 4:11)
We do not want this accusation to be levelled also against us. However, rejection of Jesus is not necessarily done outright, blatantly, foolishly, acting on impulse. It might be more like growing lukewarm in our love for him. At times we feel good inside about having placed him as the cornerstone of our community, of our Church and family. Other times we might leave him in a corner because things have improved and we might not need him until the next problem arises.
However, if we are aware that the Gospel ought to be construed as a continuous call for radical decisions, we must accept that indecisiveness and lukewarmness are totally incompatible with discipleship. (Cf. Revelation 3:16) Either Christ is the sole cornerstone of anything that we set out to build, or we are to wholly forget about him. Consequently, we cannot expect to build our family, our community, our Church, our nation, our world working for 167 hours a week with only fleeting thoughts about Jesus from time to time. That lonely hour each week spent at Mass with him as the cornerstone would never amount to anything. The result of such a puny effort would be similar to the attitude of the so-called cafeteria Catholics who pick and choose from what Jesus has to offer only what suits them, agrees with them or that they need whenever they experience serious want.
Our readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter are designed specifically for the purpose of helping us decide to embrace wholeheartedly Jesus’ teachings in their entirety and to adopt his new commandment of loving and of serving each other the way he loves and serves us on the cross; and to do so 24/7/365. The ace up God’s sleeve is shown us by John (1 John 3:1-2); and spelled out by Jesus himself in the Gospel passage also from John (10:11-18). In a nutshell: God brims over with love for us and desires ardently that we think, make decisions, behave and react always as His children 24/7/365 until we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
Jesus drives home the same point with an image so old and so familiar that it might have lost its edge with us.
He is the Good Shepherd.
We know that; we heard that analogy countless times; now, perhaps, all novelty of that image has worn out. It is time for us to revisit this image of the Good Shepherd so that we may act always as God’s children; place Jesus permanently as the cornerstone of our life and be his sheep unreservedly and enduringly.
What constitutes a “good shepherd?”
From a businesslike point of view, one is a “good shepherd” if he turns a profit from his investment in and labor with sheep. Thus, cynically, we are bound to admit that a good shepherd profits exclusively at the expense of the sheep. He profits from collecting their fleece for wool, their milk to drink or to make cheese with and, then, from their very life by slaughtering them to eat or to sell their meat.
Suddenly, it must dawn on us: Jesus is not like that at all! Jesus is THE Good Shepherd in a totally different way. He is not after profit; but exclusively about the wellbeing of his sheep. Far from thinking about turning a profit, Jesus gives his life for his sheep!
And I will lay down my life for my sheep. (John 10:15)
What makes Jesus the sheep’s Shepherd and the sheep his is a unique type of mutual, intimate knowledge.
I know mine and mine know me. (John 10:14)
It is the knowledge that people married to each other for 50, 60 or more years have. It is a knowledge that is visceral and that is grounded solidly in untiring acts of love and joyous self-giving.
I am confident that we never doubt Jesus’ detailed knowledge of us; what we have to work on and invest time and willpower in is the deepening of our knowledge of him. The motivation to embark on this venture might as well be the alarming level of anxiety through which our society drags itself from day to day. Terrorism, loss of livelihood, pandemics like Covid-19, global tragedies of biblical proportions, senseless violence, etc. have painful effects on all, although to a different degree. We learn of scary information here and there, all with the sinister result of gnawing away at our peace of mind.
All these unsettling events result in people suffering from insomnia, serious mental illnesses, psychosomatic disorders and other illnesses. People who need help just to get from one day to the next overwhelm counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. At times, we ourselves wonder: “What next?” “What now?” and we have to brace ourselves for the unthinkable.
Predictably, the world offers its own remedies; but I discourage any of us to rely on them. They lack the guarantee that Jesus offers us on his cross and in his Resurrection. As our permanent cornerstone, Jesus has the power to lower our level of anxiety dramatically, and most effectively.
But to carry out this crucial mission of making Jesus the cornerstone of people’s lives there is an ever-increasing urgency for priestly vocations. Its urgency is undeniable, as the number of priests dwindles alarmingly while those who despair need a prompt infusion of hope and those hurting need immediate healing. We must all see this need as most vital for the future of the Church. Therefore, we should not be satisfied with our usual prayers for vocations, even if said in earnest.
We should make serious sacrifices, including fasting, for this noble cause; muster enough courage to invite good young men whom we know to consider the priesthood and extoll ministerial priesthood so as to make it more enticing to them.