Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Good Sheep

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want …
I fear no evil; for you are with me.  Psalm 23
A few days ago I completed a novel about a shepherd and then heard the next day’s Gospel tell the story of the Good Shepherd, and I contemplated how God challenges us to be goods shepherds, as he was.
I recently picked up some spiritual reading from my pile of “to-read” books, and found myself holding a book of the New Testament and Psalms --- I’ve given away many copies of this book and thought:  Well, it would be a good thing for ME to read this, as a commitment to daily Scripture reading (which I am not too good about), and so I began a leisurely reading plan:  1 NT chapter, 1 Psalm a day, to be read as part of my morning prayers.
I chuckled to myself in church yesterday as I read Matthew 5 before mass.  The part about the beatitudes and how to live your life had been a recent Gospel.  I had just read up to verse 20 of the chapter 5, when the beginning of mass interrupted me.  And a short while later I heard the Gospel read:  Mt 5:17-20, which I had read mere minutes before.
And I thought: “Okay, Lord, what is your point today?”  None of these types of coincidences surprise me much anymore --- and yet, they make me feel, I don’t know, loved?  (Or at least noticed enough to be chastised, in love, every now and again.)  And so I considered today’s readings and recent events in my life:
All of Matthew Chapter 5 describes rules we should follow and attitudes we should have, to lead a good life.  The Psalm 5 I read this day spoke of trusting in God for deliverance from enemies.  And after meditating on these things, I thought:  following the rules and trusting, these are things sheep do.
If you are like me, someone used to making decisions and having a confidence that what I don’t know I WILL find out, the concept of being a sheep doesn’t set too easy.  I am not a good follower, especially if I think someone is leading me in the wrong direction.  I speak up; I argue my position:  Prove me wrong!  But then I read MT 5:22 which says:  “Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.  Liable to judgment??  This is a serious matter, this having an “I know the way” attitude, and becoming angry when I don’t get my way.  As is its opposite:  “Things are not going my way, and I can’t stop them.  Woe is me!  The sky is falling!”
Jesus, I trust in You --- those words are the essence of Psalm 5; but in difficult times when we are not in control, those are hard words to say and mean.  They are the words said by The Good Sheep to the Good Shepherd.
I thought on recent events going on in my life and those of people in my life.  For some, close friends or relatives are dying.  For some, their lives seem not in their control --- I’ll meet with the Caregiver’s Support Group tonight and hear many of those types of stories.  Last night a friend called lamenting a huge change which was about to be announced in her workplace:  companies were making decisions to improve profits, and jobs and lives will be impacted --- and there is a fear of the unknown future.  I’ve lived through those times, and have known her fear.
As much as we are called and challenged to use the talents God gave us, to be Good Shepherds, to be all He made us to be, --- yet I think He challenges us even more when in times of danger He asks us to be Good Sheep.  Everything will not always be in control in our lives.  There will be challenges; there will be sorrows; there will be fears of the unknown.  In just this week, I’ve seen it all around me, in so many friends and people I know.
My natural inclination is always to take charge:  to analyze the data, the situation, to consider pros and cons, risks and opportunities, and to lay out positive paths to acceptable solutions to a problem --- to trust in my talents.  But these Gospels and readings say:  No.  My first reaction should not be to take charge, but rather to pray:  ‘You are in charge, Lord.  I trust in You.”  And then wait, to perceive HIS will, not mine.
It is a hard thing, to wait on the Lord, to trust.  In the movies when we hear someone counsel to a victim:  “Don’t worry; everything is going to be all right,” we think:  You don’t know that, and we anxiously await the outcome of the movie.
The thing is, God DOES know the end of the movie of our life.  While we watch a movie, despite all disasters we see, we do expect that the good guys will win in the end.  God KNOWS they will.  And He told us so.
That’s the challenge of being a Good Sheep, trusting the Good Shepherd.  I think I want to be a father figure to people, but He tells us to be as little children.
Oh, and what of this morning’s Scripture reading?  Well, I read the next chapter in Matthew and found these words to be a little familiar also:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious.  Mt 6:25
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For those in my neighborhood, if you see Fr John Riccardo today, you might give him a polite “Happy Birthday.”  He turns 50 today; he is a great blessing for all of us.

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