To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:
I wanted to find out on the internet recently how many people are watching the new series on Sunday night on NBC entitled AD: The Gospel Continues. Looks like a lot of people are watching it. But another story caught my eye in the Hollywood Reporter, where that information is found. It was an article entitled “Jesus in Film and TV: 13 Devilishly Handsome Actors Who’ve Played the Son of God.”
The article showed the pictures of all the devilishly handsome actors who played Jesus in the movies or on television in recent years. To tell the truth, none of them looked like Jesus to me. In his Letter to the Philippians St. Paul says that Jesus took on the form of a slave. That seems to mean that if we met him on the street, we wouldn’t recognize him. He would look like one of the crowd. Jesus may not have been particularly handsome, but of course Hollywood finds that hard to believe. We’re so sure that looks, appearances, image are everything.
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says in today’s gospel. Now, I don’t know too much about shepherds or what they look like, but from the little I know I don’t believe they’re a particularly handsome group. They’re men who spend most of their time outside in the cold or the heat; weather-beaten, scruffy looking, with few opportunities for grooming themselves, not much to look at. It’s a tough job, being a shepherd.
But the good shepherd cares for his sheep. That’s what Jesus does; he cares for his sheep. He cares for his sheep no matter what the weather, cold or hot. He makes the journey with them, no matter how hard it is. He doesn’t abandon his sheep, no matter what. He searches for the ones who are lost and he looks for others to enter his flock.
That’s the way Jesus, the Risen Jesus, describes himself in John’s gospel today:
“I am the good shepherd.
A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
He’s not doing it for pay, he’s not someone hired, putting in his time, caring little for his sheep, ready to run away when the wolf comes and the sheep are scattered.
“I am the good shepherd,
and I know mine and mine know me,”
He knows his sheep, Jesus says, not in an impersonal way. He speaks and they hear his voice. ‘Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,” he says, and “I will lay down my life from them.”
Some years ago I was on a plane from St. Louis to Kennedy Airport in New York City. I opened my prayer book to say a prayer before takeoff and just then an African-American woman sat down next to me; at first, I thought she was a young teenager. “Sir,” she said, “Could I read a psalm?”
“Sure,” I said, “Let’s read the 22th Psalm together, which is the Good Shepherd psalm. So together we said that beautiful psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….”
“That’s my favorite prayer,” she said, and she told me she was going overseas to Germany to rejoin her husband in the army there. They had lost a child in childbirth some months before and she had gone home to see her mother after the loss.
When we got up in the air above the clouds, she told me that after her baby’s death she had a dream. She saw Jesus, the Good Shepherd, walking in clouds like this and he was carrying her little baby. “ I love that psalm and I say it all the time, “ she said.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me, he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me.
You set a table before me in front of my enemies;You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the LORD for endless days.