The Father and I are one
On Good Shepherd Sunday Peter Gallagher SJ describes how it is impossible to trick our loving Father.
No one can steal from the Father: The Father and I are one. Good Shepherd Sunday reminds us that Jesus Christ protects us from predators. Jesus, the good shepherd, guards the flock against livestock-thieves. No one can steal from the Father: The Father and I are one. Who are the enemies who might steal the sheep? There is sin which robs us of God and threatens to rob God of us. All kinds of selfishness coax us away from our full membership of the flock of worshippers of God and disciples of Christ. If there is a stampede of people who are not thinking about God and who reject the teachings of Jesus, we can be swept along with them.
No one can steal from the Father
The Lord reassures us that powerful as these forces might be, he will not allow us to be permanently lost. So strong is the protection offered by the good shepherd, Jesus Christ, that it is unthinkable that any of those who have been entrusted to him by God the Father could be lost forever. It is impossible to cease to belong to God. And this ‘belonging’ is a loving relationship not ownership. God does not jealously guard his possessions but he will not give up his beloved children to those who would like to carry them off. He cherishes us too much. Despite our worst mistakes, we are safe. The good shepherd, it seems, accepts neither resignation nor escape nor kidnapping. All remain in the flock. No one can steal from the Father: The Father and I are one.
Is there any sense in which we might ourselves be the thieves who threaten the flock, leading someone else astray by bad example. We might do the devil’s work, harming the flock, perhaps without fully realising what we are doing?
Good Shepherd Sunday
On Good Shepherd Sunday we traditionally do our best to support the formation of future priests. We hope that the priests of the future will be the energetic allies of Jesus, in ensuring that no one entrusted to the Lord will not return safe to him. We all earnestly desire to be good guides to any particular sheep which are entrusted to us. Like all the co-workers of the good shepherd, we have a particular gratitude to Jesus for his rescue of us. Those who answer God’s call to the priesthood have their own sense of having been saved and rescued, of not having been allowed to be lost. When we support priestly formation, we are building up the network of cooperation with God and his providence which accommodates us all and the whole of our life. We are beneficiaries, along with everyone else, of his loving mercy.
The good shepherd dispenses his care of the flock according to God’s loving providence. God’s providence also decides when we shall receive the graces which we need to lead the good life to which the shepherd, Jesus Christ, has summoned us. His providence and his timing can appear inadequate to us. There can be a rebelliousness in us which could make us a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We profess to be in the flock but in fact we conduct ourselves as if knew better than God. We sincerely desire the good things which God promises but we want to have them on our own terms.
Wanting God’s gift but not God himself
Rather absurdly we can catch ourselves wanting God’s gift but not God himself. Our sins have an element of absurdity but also their perverse logic. Happiness for us lurks in God’s pocket: he is being slow to dispense his graces, as it seems; can we, by sleight of hand, abstract such wonderful joy for ourselves without his noticing? The Lord is willing to nourish the flock but we would prefer to find our nourishment, the same nourishment, by subterfuge. Stealing from God is approaching him not prayerfully but acquisitively. The best prayer is Thy will be done: but we are tempted to substitute My will be done.
We pray not humbly but threateningly. ‘To this I may not yet be entitled, but, dear God, give it to me anyway.’ ‘Give me this, or the edifice of my faith will come tumbling down.’ Why shouldn’t we take those blessings to which we are already practically entitled given our steadiness and perseverance? No one can steal from the Father: The Father and I are one. But surely God would not deny us, say, better health, a happier family and world peace?
He is the true lamb
The prayers of the masses of the Easter season gently remind us that Jesus Christ is both the good shepherd and the lamb of sacrifice. He is the true lamb who has taken away the sins of the world: by dying he has destroyed our death, and by rising, restored our life. We cannot steal from him because he has already given everything away. We receive from the shepherd and the lamb all that we need to live always according to God’s good plan.
Peter Gallagher SJ