4th Sunday in Easter – Year B
Fr. David Reitzel
Preached: April 22, 2018
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus knew how absurd some of his parables sounded. Take for example the teaching he gave about not judging. He says, “Why do you point out the spec in your neighbor’s eye when you have a log in your own” (Matt 7:3). It’s ridiculous to imagine a person with a whole log in their eye.
Or what about the sower who went out to sow and threw seeds on rocks, on pathways, in thorn bushes, and some made it to the good soil. Anyone who owned a farm would have told Jesus that person would be fired instantly for being so careless with the seeds. And today we hear another parable that would have sounded absurd to his listeners, a shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.
I heard of a priest once who was traveling through the holy land when he came upon a shepherd who was walking his sheep to a grazing area. This priest was a little excitable, and when he saw this he was overjoyed that he was actually witnessing a biblical scene.
So the priest went up to the shepherd full of expectation and asked him,
“You’re a shepherd right?”
“Yes,” the shepherd responded.
“Oh how beautiful,” the priest thought. “So that means that if you were to ever lose a sheep, you would go through the fields trying to find him, right?”
“What? No! We’d just count that as a write off. We lose sheep all the time. We budget that in,” the shepherd responded.
“Oh” the priest thought, a little deflated. The priest then tried again asking, “Well, what if a wolf came? Would you fight it trying to protect your flock from being devoured?”
“Do you think I’m crazy?” the shepherd said. “I’m not putting my life on the line. Beside the wolf is only going to take two maybe three of them. We can afford that.”
What the priest hoped would be an uplifting and edifying encounter with a shepherd in Israel turned out to be disappointment.
The shepherd that the priest met, if we want to be fair, was a reasonable man. I mean, if a sheep gets lost, a 1% loss isn’t really going to hurt the business. And if a wolf comes by, I’m sure the wife and children of that shepherd would be happy to hear that he didn’t endanger his life for the sake of some livestock.
This leads us to conclude that when Jesus said that he was the good shepherd – that he lays down his life for his sheep – he was making a statement that was absurd to those who heard him, and even to shepherds today.
But that’s the point. Jesus does not think in the same way as we do. God says, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways . . . as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:8)
Of course Jesus sounds absurd. He is thinking a lot higher than us. The fact the Jesus is willing to lay down his life for us, shows that he is madly in love with us. He doesn’t care what it costs him. He wants to show his love, and he wants to pay the price so that we can be with him in heaven.
No amount of cost benefit analyses or loss gain comparisons can make sense of what Jesus has done for us. That is because Jesus loves us not with the heart and mind of only a human which always considers such things, but with the heart and mind of a God which knows no limits.
For us this can mean many things, but I only want to focus on one. Next time you are thinking about the love of God, stop, and remind yourself that you will never, never comprehend the depth of God’s love for you. God made you, God gave you everything you have, and as if that wasn’t enough he died for you. To spend a lifetime contemplating the love of God would not be enough, that’s why he invites us to experience it for eternity.
Jesus is the good shepherd, and he lays down his life for his sheep. An absurd statement in the eyes of the world, but an act of unspeakable love in the eyes of those who love him back.