Fourth Sunday of Easter
Some gospels are stories. We read them and reflect on what they suggest about how we are living and what kind of person one wants to become.
Others, like todays, are discourses in which Jesus tells us about our relationship. He tells us that being admitted to eternal life does not depend on what you know; it depends on Who you know…and on Him knowing you.
That reminds me of my student days in Iowa City in the late 60’s-early 70’s. My buddies and I had a favorite bar downtown where they always had good bands. There was always a $1 cover charge. The other guys would pay it and, since I knew the band members, I’d tell the girl “I’m with the band” and get in free. So, when I get to the Pearly Gates I’ll point at Jesus and say, “I’m with Him.”
I’m with Him because, to quote Him, I heard His voice, a distinctive voice. Sheep recognize a voice addressed to the flock and adjusted to each individual member. When I heard it, it called to my life experience and the values lodged in my heart.
I think we’re all like that. We are not sheep. We are made in the image and likeness of God. We have reason and emotions and a will. These have to be deliberately committed to the following of the shepherd. We don’t do it on instinct.
Being in the image of God, our will is free. Nothing changes that. It is the likeness, the kind of good that we pursue, that Jesus is appealing to and leading us to. He calls not just for a virtuous action, but for a virtuous disposition, a virtuous motive that would cause us to use our freedom to follow Him.
Using those motives, we freely choose to follow Him. Commonly, we choose between following His lead or being chased by the sheep dog of fear, goading us from behind along the path of life…and a short path at that! That path is littered with fears that desires won’t be gratified before the path runs out. A world that doesn’t gratify desires seems to withhold a worthwhile, fulfilling life. So, answering the shepherd’s voice requires that we first become convinced that what the world doesn’t hold, it can’t withhold. If it’s not out there to be got, it’s not out there to be denied.
Using our reason and will to make that decision occasions the virtue of reverence. “Reverence is the capacity for awe, respect, and shame in the face of what cannot be changed or controlled by human effort.” It comes from an awareness of our limitations and thus our common humanity. That awareness leads to awe at things outside of our control, things like God.
So, reverence begins as admiration. Admiration is incompatible with resentment and contempt at the uncontrollable. We follow the shepherd’s voice with admiration. When we admire someone, we want to imitate what we admire about them. A subtle, but important, influence on the urge to imitate is that He likes us! And He will always keep us close to Him, “always” means eternally.
Reverence, often born of defeat, is the motive that allows a creature endowed with reason and will to follow Jesus Christ. As the sheep follow in flock, so we follow in a community of reverence. We must acknowledge our dependence on each other for the motivation to live the virtues. Then, as our closing prayer tells us, we will be “settled in eternal pastures.” And deep in our hearts we know it doesn’t get any better than that.