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Fourth Sunday of Easter: Our God is different

Today’s readings: Acts 4, 8-12; 1 John 3, 1-2; John 10, 11-18.

St John’s gospel uses the imagery of the good shepherd, of a caring that is truly pastoral, to depict the universality of God’s will to save mankind and possibly to restore each and everyone. Inclusivity is a Gospel mandate, writes author Diarmuid O’Murchu in a book that carries the same title. The one who was born in a shepherd’s cave and who was first welcomed into the world by shepherds who were considered outcasts at the time, declares himself to be the good shepherd.

As good shepherd, Jesus is not simply happy with the fold, with those who belong, but thirsts for those “that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well”. This is a strong imagery that manifests the drive to reach out and bring in, in what can be considered a movement toward that spiritual wholeness so much needed in the history of humanity and particularly in today’s circumstances.

“They too will listen to my voice,” says Jesus, referring to this wholeness that transcends the boundaries of Church and religion. This is not a command, an injunction to be obeyed. It is the Father’s will, what Jesus represents and strives for so that no one may be lost. God’s tenderness is without boundaries. It revolutionises our perception of God as someone who is always taking stock of our past and substitutes that perception with a God who is in future mode.

It means that God never stops wishing us well, that he never gives up on our struggles and failures, that he never stops hoping and investing in us. For the umpteenth time throughout this season, this defines the real and deep meaning of the resurrection: Christ, who died a violent death, victim of envy and jealousy, of political and religious bigotry, could not remain in the past. He was raised from the dead to counter all that in life kills the body without killing the spirit.

This is the God of life whom we do not know. The God we know is the God of our religion, the God whom we fear more out of superstition rather than out of faith. The God of our religion is a God of the past, whom we believe one day we have to face and to whom we have to respond in the manner an accused responds to in court.

The God who shepherds us, the one described in today’s gospel, is different. He is not exacting from us our dues. Instead, He “lays down His life for us”, He knows us and wants us to know Him. More than that, as St John writes in the second reading, He reveals His face to us and wants us ultimately to be like Him.

The big truth in all this, and that gives a radically different perspective to our beliefs, is that the God we believe in is not a God who remains hidden in life and whom we are meant to keep seeking, with little result. Rather, it is He Himself who is in search of us. He knows us, and in revealing Himself to us, He makes it easier for us to discover in depth our true self, which becomes whole in Him.

St John writes about what we are and what we are to be in the future. It is God who fills the gap between these two ends, who enables us to be fully who we are. The most intimate and profound truth about ourselves, which at times remains hidden, is brought forth in us by God Himself. This is what Peter proclaims in Acts when interrogated about a man who was healed and who, from someone “crippled” for life, became someone who now could “stand up perfectly healthy”.

God is always envisaging in us our future, the very possibility of our being restored to perfect health. So, in line with today’s gospel, it is imperative for us to discern whom we are allowing to shepherd us in life: whether it is the good shepherd, characterised as the one who lays down His life for us, or the hired shepherd who, in the face of danger, runs away.

It stands exclusively with us to choose our God. And the proof of a good or bad choice rests always with how perfectly healthy we can remain in the face of adversity. We’ve always viewed our life of faith in terms of giving our life to God. Here is God who lays down His life for us so that we may have life, and thanks to His care we may come to a deeper knowledge of our own selves.

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