Sunday, April 21, 2024

Clinging To The Rope

4th Sunday in Easter (B)

(Good Shepherd or Vocation Sunday)

Readings: Acts 4: 8-12; Psalm 117 (118): 1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28-29; 1 John 3: 1-2; John 10: 11-18

Picture: By Hieu Pham on Unsplash

My dear friends, have you ever seen a children’s walking rope? It’s often used by preschool teachers, and has three key features. The rope usually has handles attached to it, which kids can hold on to, allowing the teacher to gather and lead them to where they need to go. Gathering and leading. That’s what the rope is for. That’s its first feature. Second, the rope is used at transitional or in-between spaces and times, such as when the kids are moving outside the classroom, where it’s less safe, and they require more guidance and care. Third, for the rope to work, the children must keep holding on to it, and resist the temptation to wander off on their own.

So gathering and leading… transitional or in-between spaces and times… and the need to keep holding on. These three features also characterise each of the two images used in our scriptures today. In the first reading, Peter describes the Crucified and Risen Jesus as the stone rejected by… the builders, but which has become the keystone. What is a keystone used for, if not to gather other stones to itself, so that they can all be led to complete the architect’s project? And where and when is a keystone most important, if not at the site and stage of construction, a transitional or in-between space and time? Also, a cornerstone is beneficial only to those stones that hold on or align themselves to it.

In the gospel, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. By his Coming, his Dying, and his Rising, the Lord gathers us, his scattered sheep, into one flock. Leading us across the transitional space and time of this passing world, in between his First Coming and his Second. Ushering us ever more fully into God’s Kingdom. And in order to benefit from the Lord’s efforts, we need to keep holding on to him. We need to listen to his voice, to trust and take refuge in him. Which is not always easy to do, even for regular church-goers like us. For don’t we often encounter situations that captivate or burden us so much, that our attention is diverted away from the Lord? Like how the rich man, in Luke’s gospel, was so captivated by luxury, that he failed to notice the poor Lazarus at his door (Lk 16:19-21). Or how Martha  was so burdened by her chores, that she failed to keep her focus on Jesus (Lk 10:40). Similarly, we forget to listen to him, loosen our grip on him, even lose interest in him. And our hearts start to feel like scattered sheep. Broken into different pieces. Each one wandering off on its own. Getting lost in the darkness. Adversely affecting not just our spiritual wellbeing, but sometimes even our mental health as well.

Isn’t this why we need to heed St John’s advice in the second reading? Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children… In other words, keep doing every day, what we are doing now, in this beautiful season of Easter. Keep pondering how, through the courageous yet humble sacrifice of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit, God the Father is ushering us into the joy of God’s Kingdom. For by regularly dwelling upon these mysteries, we allow the Lord to gather the different parts of our broken hearts, and to align them to him. So that he becomes the Unifying Principle of our existence. Isn’t this what it means to live a vocation? In whichever state of life we find ourselves – whether student or working or retired, single or married, separated or divorced or widowed, ordained or consecrated – to seek to be aligned to God’s will for us, and to keep moving in the direction in which God wishes us to go. Such that every experience we may have, every situation we may encounter, becomes a handle for us to cling ever more tightly to the One who died, and was raised to life for us.

Also, perhaps it’s important for us to recognise that, in this hyper-modern society of ours, there is at least one thing that makes it all the more challenging for us to remain focused on the Lord. Something that many of us have with us right now, sleeping snugly in our pockets or purses, or even buzzing busily in our hands. Something the use of which, researchers say, is rewiring our brains. Making it ever more difficult for us to focus our attention on any one thing in a truly sustained way. How are we to focus our hearts on the Lord, when our attention is continually fragmented by the notifications coming from our smartphones? Perhaps we need to cultivate habits that involve setting aside our attention-grabbing devices from time to time. So as to give our overloaded minds a much-needed break. Allowing us to regain the ability to recognise and resist the pull of darkness, so as to focus our attention on the One True Light.

Sisters and brothers, like preschoolers holding on to a walking rope, what must we do to cling ever more tightly to the Good Shepherd, as he leads us all into the justice and peace of God’s kingdom today?

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