Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter 2022
Today is Mother’s Day where we remember with love and gratitude the women who gave us life. Eighteen years ago this month, my mother passed went home to God. I still miss her, but I know that she is enjoying the eternal life that was promised to her at baptism. And yet, after her funeral, I had her voice on my phone messages. Periodically, I would listen to her message… she didn’t like leaving messages on phones and you could hear it in her voice… I’d listen to it and save it for another day. Somehow it brought me a false sense of comfort. Someone’s voice is very unique and different from all rest. And for those we love the most, it’s what we recognize and remember because they are or were very special to us.
In the Gospel for today, Jesus reminds his followers, “my sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they will never perish.” The voice of the Lord… speaking… speaking to their hearts and ours. Today we are bombarded with so many voices… the voice that tells us to have more or to do more ASAP even though we’re exhausted. The voice that tells us to look the other way or not to get involved… even when we should. Or the voice that tells us, ‘why bother…’? Or the voice that says, ‘go ahead and say it… let’s ‘stir the pot’ or start something.’ All of these voices are contrary to the Gospel. None of these are the voice of God.
If that is the case, what does the voice of God Shepherd sound like? The voice of God is this: when we feel that drive or desire to speak up for those who have no voice: the horrible injustice happening to Ukraine. When the voice draws us to the person who has hurt us and to offer forgiveness and reconciliation. The voice of God is spoken to mother’s who continue to love when their hearts are broken by horrible situations that their children find themselves in. God’s voice calls us to gather as community to pray and support the flock. The voice invites us into the imperfect world to feed the hungry, to cloth the naked. This is the voice of God.
That is what the people experienced in the First Reading, God’s voice speaking through Barnabas and Paul. The crowds are listening to Paul and Barnabas who are preaching the love of Jesus Christ. And then we heard how the religious leadership of the Jewish people were jealous because the crowds who were listening began to follow them. With God’s Spirit in their hearts, we are told that Paul and Barnabas “spoke out Boldly… reminding the Jews that since they did not listen to God’s Word, that they would turn their attention to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people). And the Gentiles both welcomed and shared the voice of God with others.
Today, Jesus compares his followers to sheep and Jesus the shepherd. Why would he do this? Well sheep have a strong herd instinct… they know down deep that there is safety in numbers… they benefit with they blend in with the other members of the flock. And yet, if the stray from the flock or group, they become terribly vulnerable. Sound familiar? A shepherd keeps watch for straying sheep. The sheep listen to and follow a shepherd who lives with them, tended them and reassured them. A shepherds cares and protects the sheep. The shepherd knows the sheep and the sheep will follow when they hear the shepherd’s voice. God is the shepherd and we are God’s sheep… God’s flock. Pope Frances stated in Evangelli Gaudium, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (No. 49). He also called those in so many different ministries, those serving or co-shepherding with Jesus, to take on the “smell of the sheep”. That can only happen by working with and listening to each other – the flock. Only then will the sheep recognize the voice of Jesus through them.
One day, I went to listen to my mother’s voice. It was gone. Technology was not as advanced as it is now so messaged did not stay on phones as long. Or perhaps I erased it by mistake. Or perhaps it happened because my mother knew that this was enough. My focus was to be on the voice of Good Shepherd and not her. How could I hear the Good Shepherd speak to me through others? What turned out to be a very painful day for me in fact was a day of liberation…. a day of ah ha!
Although we miss our mothers, we know that we will see them again, moms, grandmothers, mother figures, and all those we loved in this life again, because we are never separated from God’s flock… at least not for long. During this Easter Season, let us continue to listen to the Good Shepherds voice and remember what he said, not once, but twice in today’s short Gospel, “No one can take us out of God’s hand…” Amen.