Readings: Acts 2:14,36-41; Psalm 22(23); 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10
“I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” These most consoling words of Jesus are mirrored in today’s Psalm, “in the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for ever and ever.”
In this period of trial for humanity as a whole, the promise of Christ offers us the supreme hope. While he certainly does lead and guide us through this trial, the hope he offers is not ultimately for this life but for that abundant life poured forth in the house of God for ever and ever. Marx called religion “the opium of the people”, meaning that religion was only a drug to distract people from reality. No, the Christian religion offers a hope that will not deceive because it is rooted in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. There is nothing more real and certain than that, so it cannot deceive.
This hope does not take our present pain away but it does guarantee that it will have no lasting future. It lifts up our oh so sore hearts, to look for solace above. We must work for a vaccine and cure for the covid pandemic. But where is the vaccine and cure for the sore heart? Only the love of Christ and our hope in him provide that. Our hope is like a lifeline thrown out to us in the midst of troubled and heavy waters, gradually pulling us forwards and upwards to safe harbour. Again, our hope is like a Trojan horse within the city of our current affliction, letting out secretly and gradually its soldiers of trust, confidence and encouragement to silence our fears and anxieties.
Now, someone might say that they have hope in something or someone else, not Jesus. Their hope could be anything or anyone. But on this score, Jesus is adamant and unyielding: he alone is our hope; he alone is the gateway to life; he alone is the Good Shepherd pasturing his own with eternal life. Anyone or anything else is, in the end, not only useless but is to be labelled as thief or bandit. And what would be being stolen? Nothing less than our hearts and souls, for to promise a final and ultimate hope that you cannot deliver is to deceive, and to deceive only for your own purposes, not for the good of the one deceived. Jesus uses cutting words: the thief only comes only to “steal and destroy. I have come that they may have life in abundance.”
And it must therefore be added that there is no life other than the life He offers, the life He first gave in dying and took up again in rising. Only He has now the power over death. He took it back from Satan so that, for those who believe in Christ, death is no longer the dreadful and to be dreaded dead-end of existence, but the “gate of the sheepfold” into the abundance of life. Even if the lockdown were ended tomorrow with 100% guarantees that covid-19 was dead, the life that we would return to is still not true life, not lasting life, for we must yet die and pass through Christ, the gate – so as then to rise and dwell in His house for ever and ever!
Jesus alone is true life. He is reality, as St. Paul says. If anything or anyone is not compatible with Jesus, at peace with Jesus, then it is not real, says St. Paul. The lockdown is a call to root and to rivet that truth once more in the depths of our hearts and minds, of our relationships and families, of our choices and priorities. All that we have lost during these days, for however short a time, tells us with blazing clarity that if life is to be enjoyed at all as the Lord’s gift, it cannot be enjoyed honestly if it is at his expense. The story of Esau comes to mind when, blinded by his appetite, he forfeits his inheritance for a plate of soup. We need to be alert that we do not forfeit Christ for something merely ephemeral. However we might dress it up as important as the thing to have or be or experience or pursue or believe, it is nothing more than a plate of soup if it displaces Christ.
Today’s Gospel tells us something else, something very beautiful, very moving and, for that reason, very challenging: our Good Shepherd calls and knows each one of us by name. Palestinian shepherds at the time of Jesus had the practice of calling their favourite sheep by name, e.g. “long-ears” or “white-nose.” Each of us is, or is called to be, a favourite of Jesus. It all depends on whether we each recognise or want to recognise His voice. You don’t just recognise someone, of course, by hearing their physical voice. You recognise them also in the message that someone else brings to you from them. In the first reading today, those Jews who were cut to the heart to the point of repentance and belief in Christ did not hear his physical voice. They heard Peter’s voice, but in that voice they recognised Jesus himself. The voice of the high priest and their leaders had become the voice of strangers. They would listen to them no longer.
The hope, the life and the personal knowledge and love which Jesus alone offers us are not anonymous. They are not things stacked up on the supermarket shelf. They are ear-marked, indeed hallmarked with our specific individuality. Jesus does not call robots or morons. We are not mass-produced. He calls, because he loves and knows each of us by name and he shares his abundant life with each of us in a uniquely personal way.
With the help of Mary’s prayers and her own experience of being called so uniquely by God, let us reap our opportunity in these times of trial and truth to listen for the voice of the Lord and to experience the unutterable joy and gladness which it gives to our deepest soul. And let us follow Him gladly, whatever this life brings, to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever and ever.