4th Sunday of Easter (B – Good Shepherd Sunday) – April 25, 2021
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Acts 4:8-12; Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28-29; 1 John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
My Life Is Not About Me
Something that I struggle with a lot is this: “Life is not about me.” Every day. Every day I struggle with this. I’ve struggled with this ever since I was young. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. Live my life. I had my own plans, my own dreams. But no matter what, there was this nagging thought: “Life is not about you.” And even more importantly, “My life is not about me.” Because I would tell myself that too: “Sure, the world, everyone else’s lives—life is not just about me. But my life? Oh yeah, my life is about me!” Right?
Wrong. Even when I think that, “I’m doing me,” and “I am living my best life and if other people have a problem, that’s their problem not mine,” I knew that wasn’t true. My decision, my life, my vocation—my life affects countless others. My life is not about me.
Today, the fourth Sunday of Easter, we celebrate “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The prayers and the readings for the Mass all focus on the role of Christ as the Good Shepherd, and us as the sheep. The opening prayer talks about us as the “humble flock” and Jesus as our “brave shepherd.” And this entire Sunday focuses us on this image—because it’s important!
Sheep are dumb. Sheep are so dumb! If you leave a sheep on its own, it will make the worst decisions. If you have a flock of sheep, they will just follow any sheep anywhere…they’re just so dumb. Sheep need a shepherd. It’s that simple. Scripture uses the example of sheep and shepherds all the time. And we like to think of it in a cute, cuddly way, but really you should be a little insulted. Because sheep are really dumb. Sheep will just wander off and put themselves in awful positions.
That’s us: even if that we like to think that we’re fine and following the right path and doing fine…eh, probably not.
We have spent our time and energy and money “going” somewhere, “following” someone…and we have just ended up in a bad spot. We allow the rest of the “flock” to pressure us into doing dumb stuff, into believing dumb stuff, into believing that, “Life is about me! My life is about me!” We have gone astray in relationships, breaking trust, hurting others. We have gone astray.
The prophet Ezekiel was famous for pointing this out. He said, “You have been pasturing yourselves!” (c.f., Ez 31:1ff). And we all do this! We make everything about us! Life is about us! Every action, every decision, everything is self-referential, all about us. We spend our life trying to invent ourselves, love ourselves, make something of ourselves. And even though we may not believe the words, we live our life thinking, “My life is about me.”
A Good Shepherd
But in all of our readings today, we hear about a Good Shepherd. But why a Shepherd? Why does scripture constantly turn our attention back to a shepherd?
Because when we have a shepherd, we know we are going to be taken care of, protected, and provided for. When we have a shepherd, we don’t have to make life about us, because the Shepherd’s life is about us. When there is a shepherd, all of the time we spend trying to protect ourselves, guard our hearts, provide for ourselves—we don’t have to do that anymore.
A Shepherd gives us freedom. We can take a risk, and know that the Shepherd will provide for us—because even though “my life is not about me,” His life is only about me. He lays down his entire life for us. Not even his life, the life of Jesus himself, is worth preserving. He lays it down. His life, God’s life, is not about God. This is what Jesus reveals, this is who the Good Shepherd is.
World Day of Prayer for Vocations
That’s why today is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations: vocations to the priesthood, vocation to the religious and consecrated life. The world is in need of people who live their life as a sign of this: my life is not about me. I cannot tell you how often people express how strange it is that someone as young as me would give their life to be a priest. That’s kinda weird: my life, just by waking up, becomes a sign of this: life isn’t about me.
The first step for any person in discovering and being able to live their vocation is to admit: “My life is not about me.” You have to admit that. You may not believe it, you may not know what that looks like day-to-day. But it begins there: “My life is not about me.” Marriage too. If you think your life in marriage is all about you…well, you let me know how that goes.
So it begins by realizing that life is not about you. But then the next step (and this is the hard one) is to take a risk! Many of you may feel this attraction to or call to the religious life, to be a nun, to be a priest. And that can be an exciting discovery, but it can also be frightening, worrying. This decision would involving risking everything. It involves the risk of leaving everything else behind to follow the Lord, to follow his call, to follow this Shepherd. We have our own plans, our own desires and ideas of what will make us happy. And God promises that he will fulfill our desire for happiness! He promises. That desire we have for happiness was given to us by God—but the idea, the image we have in our mind, the plan we have of what will fulfill that desire for happiness…may not be the same plan God has for us. Sure, we can follow our own plan and be happy. But the Lord promises that those who risk everything in order to follow him will be one hundred times more happy NOW, and in the life to come.
But this involves a risk. It involves admitting to yourself, “My life is not about me.”
But that is precisely when the Good Shepherd, Christ himself, can begin to give us the happiness we seek. I guarantee it. I still struggle admitting that “my life is not about me.” I still struggle risking everything. But I have never, NEVER been let down by the Lord when I do.
This is the path laid down for each one of us, regardless of our vocation. This is the mystery we receive in this sacrament: Jesus freely gives his body away; he doesn’t cling to his own life; he freely gives it away. This is the mystery we seek to immerse ourselves in. In giving ourselves away, in living not for ourselves but for him who died and rose for us, we find our life.