Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Fourth Sunday of Easter: He Leads Us Beside Still Waters
Recently, I finished a Great Courses class on the Founding Fathers. The course focused mostly on the construction and implementation of the Constitution of the United States. It included many insights into those remarkable men who convinced our fledgling republic to embrace a system of government that would provide the stability missing in the Articles of Confederation.
Most of these early American leaders were religious people in that they believed in God and trusted in Him to guide the country. At the same time, most of them embraced a philosophy/theology that said that while God was concerned with mankind in general, He was distant from the individual. You might remember that they called this type of religion Deism. Simply put, Deism would say, that God created mankind and is concerned about His People, but He doesn’t get involved with an individual person’s problems or even his or her life.
It is easy for us to fall into a form of Deism, particularly when we consider some of our Easter formulas. For example, we say, correctly, “Jesus died on the cross to save mankind from sin.” Or, “He saved us from the power of the devil.” True again. But if we stop there, we could easily become Deists worshiping a distant but uninvolved God. Jesus does more than just care for mankind in general. He cares for us as individuals. No one is insignificant to Him. There is nothing about any of our lives, no situation, no event, no concern, no fear, no joy that the Lord does not want to embrace. He makes our needs His needs. He loves all of us and each of us. He loves every part of each one of our lives.
To remind us of the Lord’s concern for each one of us, to remind us that He rose from the dead to give His Life to all of us and to each of us, the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter is always taken from John 10, the Gospel of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd cares for each one of His Sheep. He lays down His life for His sheep. Jesus did not just die for mankind in general. He died for you. He died for me. He knows His sheep. He knows you. He knows me. In fact, He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows everything that has effected our lives from the days when we were in our mothers’ wombs. He knows why we are more joyful or more deeply grieved than others in various situations. For example, He knows that a particular person who works hard on his temper is fighting off problems that person does not even remember. Perhaps there was violence in his home that ended when he was three and the offender was removed. He knows that the reason why one person’s joy is greater than another’s lies deep within the person’s mind. Perhaps he survived a serious illness and now embraces every positive moment of life with the overwhelming joy of someone who values every second of life.
And He saves us from our sins. Each of us. You know, when I come upon that expression, “He saves us from our sins,” I’m tempted to limit this to something like “I can go to heaven because of the Blood of Jesus.” And that is true. But there is more, so much more to “He saves us from our sins.” By saving us from our sins, He delivers us from eternal death. We luxuriate in the Presence of Jesus Christ. We treasure this Presence. We want to remain in this Presence. We look forward to resting in His Presence forever. “May eternal rest come upon him or her,” is not just a prayer we make for others. Within it is the profound hope that we also will rest with Him.
Every one of us is continually tempted to do really evil things, but giving into their temptations carries with it a huge cost. Giving in means giving up Jesus. And, by the Grace of God, we are just not going to do that. And, yes, we are tempted to go out and blow our minds on alcohol or some other chemical, but those sins cost too much. They cost shutting the special Presence of the Lord out of our lives. And yes, we are tempted to live a selfish lifestyle, use other people to satisfy our physical needs and behave more like animals than human beings. After all, the media presents this as normal. But for us, if hedonism is normal, we would rather not be normal. We are not going to sacrifice Jesus Christ for a few moments of pleasure. If TV and the movies portray it normal to be sinful, then we would rather be abnormal for the Lord. We would rather be crazy for Jesus in the eyes of an immoral world.
And this is yet another way that He saves us from our sins. He saves us from sinning. He means too much to us for us to squander His Presence. He means too much to us for us to become presumptive, to think that, well, “I’ll sin now and ask Him to forgive me tomorrow.” There may not be a tomorrow for us. Or, more likely, we may not value forgiveness tomorrow because we may have grown more in love with the sinful lifestyle than with the Lord.
He saves us from our sins. What would we be like without Jesus? Ask yourselves. Be honest. I shutter to think of the things that I would be doing. I consider the sins I commit now and am embarrassed to realize that if this is how I behave when I treasure Jesus’ Presence, how would I behave if I did not treasure His Presence? It is scary. Left to our own devices, left to focusing on ourselves, life becomes frightening.
But we are not left alone. We have the Lord. Because we value His Presence, we are protected from the physical and psychological dependencies that could easily take over our lives. Those who are sober addicts know this so well. Having the Lord in their lives results in their having an all surpassing reason to fight off giving in to the addiction.
The Lord told the parable of the merchant who found the pearl of great price. Everything was sold to purchase that pearl. We have found the pearl of great price. Or perhaps, to put it better, the Pearl has found us. And now we, like the merchant, are willing to do whatever we can to hold onto that Pearl.
Alleluia, we proclaim at Eastertide. Alleluia. Jesus has risen from the dead. He shares His Risen Life with us. Alleluia, He has saved us from our sins. Alleluia, He is still saving each of us from our sins. He means more to us than anything the world can offer. Alleluia. Jesus Christ makes us want to be better than we are. Alleluia, He saves us.
Alleluia we proclaim. We are sheep. And the Good Shepherd has found us, every single one of us.