The stone rejected by the builders has become the corner stone. In life we sometimes miss the bus. Last week I asked the question of where on your Easter journey were you. Did you make it to the empty tomb, the upper room, the sea shore or the road to Emmaus? Today, Good Shepherd Sunday, reinforces our likelihood to miss our chance at a life changing opportunity now and then. But the message is that it is ok if this happens.
Have you ever wondered what the builders were building when that stone got rejected? Maybe a temple, or a marketplace. Maybe a home or a government building. That stone could have been one in a thousand pieces of stone in one of those buildings, but it was cast aside. It missed its opportunity. It was deemed not of use. But a short time later, it was rediscovered and it became the foundation for a new creation, that would support thousands of other stones. It took a place of glory. Our Gospel reading today gives us one of the famous “I AM” statements of Jesus. I AM the good shepherd. Though we don’t hear it today, it is paired with another I AM statement in the few verses before. An I AM statement that is sort of rejected like the stone: “So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came [before me] are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd” (John 10:7-11).
“I AM the gate for the sheep.” You will notice in the Church’s liturgical year that we don’t have Gate for the Sheep Sunday. But maybe we should. When it came to protecting sheep, there was the shepherd and there was the gate. The sheep could remain safe by being in a fenced in, gated location. Or, they could be safe by having a shepherd willing to chase of predators.
In Jesus, we have both. As we are reminded in the Easter Season, we enter through the gate of baptism into the life of Christ and his Church. Then, we listen for and follow the voice of that shepherd. Without the gate to pass through, we never reach the shepherd. Without the gate, there would always be anxiety about the threats we face in the world. It is similar to locking the door to your home at night. We hold a treasure in our hearts, and we want to protect that sacred space.
The imagery of the Good Shepherd is hard to ignore though. There is always something very comforting in the idea that we could stray from the flock and someone is going to notice. Someone is going to come after us and not only bring us back, but carry us back with haste. In the First Letter from St. John today we are told the following and I think it fills out our understanding of the Good Shepherd story: “We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Being picked up by the Good Shepherd carries with it a lesson. It is not a free ride. In fact, the Shepherd may have to lay down his life for his sheep. As we are told in St. John’s letter, after we experience this, we shall be like him, for we have seen him as he is.
The Easter season is all about seeing Jesus as he is. Alive. Glorified. At Peace. Joyful. I think this is why Good Shepherd Sunday is also a day for the promotion of vocations. A vocation is quite simply a call that we have all received and I can tell you what your vocation is right now and save you years of discernment. Ready? All Christians are called to insert love into the world. Period. The end. The manor in which you do this can be very varied, from marriage to priesthood, religious life to single living. The key is that when you wake up in the morning and you recognize where and who you are, you are putting yourself in the position to see Jesus as he is, so you shall be like him.
Over the course of the past year, we have done many things. Most we have done before, some we have not. As we conclude this semester and Academic Year, we need to be thankful for all these things and like a shepherd collect them in our mind to do so. Whether it was a walk in Mine’s Falls, a rainy trip to a corn maze, an overrun Foundations Retreat, a fire place in the Campus Ministry Lounge, over 300 Thanksgiving Basket donations, a Spring Break Trip to Camden, NJ, the Inauguration of our New President, the anticipation of University status, bowling with Jesus, serving soup, a candle light mass, Brother Mickey McGrath’s artful healing, or any other number of one off experiences of prayer or community, we are grateful for all of these chances we had to be like God, and to see him. And if we missed these chances, if we were the stone rejected, we know that all these and more will be happening next year to give us the same and the new chance to experience an Easter blessing. Blessed be God forever.