Sunday, May 08, 2022

Of Cars & Children, Christians & Christ…

4th Sunday of Easter (C)

(Good Shepherd Sunday)

Readings: Acts 13:14,43-52; Psalm 99 (100):1-3, 5; Apocalypse 7:9, 14-17; John 10:27-30

Picture: cc Juli

My dear friends, what’s the difference between a car and a child? There are many differences, of course! But today I have just one in mind… What do you think will happen if I were to use the key to the Jesuits’ Mitsubishi Attrage, and try to drive off in one of the many fancier vehicles in our parish carpark? Will I succeed? Surely not! The reason being that the key I’m using doesn’t belong to the car I’m trying to open. Their factory settings don’t match. Unlike a car, however, a child doesn’t have preprogrammed settings that prevent it from being stolen. Which is why children need to be diligently taught and carefully safeguarded. And not just by their families, but also by church and society. All of whom need to work together to foster a consistent culture of protection.

I mention this not just because of painful recently reported events concerning our church, but also because of what we find in our readings today. In the gospel, Jesus says something I find immensely reassuring: The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice… they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me… Or, in another translation, no one shall snatch them out of my hand… Very consoling, isn’t it? But what does it mean? Isn’t it tempting to think it means we Christians are like cars, preprogrammed to listen only to the Lord’s voice and no other? So that I’ll always remain safe, no matter what I do, or how I choose to live?

And, initially, the first reading may seem to support this view. When Paul and Barnabas preach the good news at Antioch in Pisidia, many choose to listen instead to their opponents. Only those destined for eternal life became believers. Which may give the impression that Christian discipleship is something already preprogrammed. But if that is true, why do Paul and Barnabas take such pains, at the beginning of the reading, to urge the Christians of Antioch to remain faithful to the grace God had given them? Doesn’t this imply that eternal life is less a destiny to be taken for granted than a precious gift to be diligently nurtured and carefully safeguarded?

Similarly, although the second reading presents us with an encouraging vision of a multitude of people standing safely before the throne of God, it also reminds us that these same people have reached their destination only after having been through the great persecution; only after having washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.

My dear friends, as you know, the 4th Sunday of Easter is when we typically promote vocations to the clerical and religious life. And yet, even more basic than the call to any particular state of life is the call to be held safely in the hands of the Lord. The response to which requires us – who live amid so many dangerous and seductive voices – to keep attuning our minds and hearts to the voice of the Lord.

Sisters and brothers, if eternal life in Christ is truly more like a child than a car, then what must we do, as individuals and as church, to better safeguard this precious gift of ours, so as to share it with many others today?

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