“I am the good shepherd, says the Lord…. I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” John 10:1-14.
We celebrate this abundant life so especially in the spring, and at Easter.
In listening carefully to today’s gospel, we’re reminded of how Jesus is the “sheep gate” or protector of these precious ones – each he knows by name.
So on this “Good Shepherd” Sunday, I’ll explore two themes: how to build up strength or resilience, and how to take direction from a shepherd — who guides us even now.
This first observation comes from a friend of mine – who told me of this incident while he was on a trip to the Holy Land.
In Bethlehem, three-years ago, my friend, Father Kevin Kilgore was at a crosswalk with traffic lights, and there he waited as a flock of sheep crossed the intersection.
In such an ancient town, the site of Jesus’s birth, the roads must accommodate both the overlay of modern vehicular traffic as well as the centuries-old paths for sheep and their trusted guides.
At the intersection, my friend noticed how a young shepherd forwarded his sheep – some, those in the front, were young, eager and feisty; older sheep were in the middle, with fleece ready for cutting; a ewe trailed in the back, possibly hurt and needing special attention.
As the shepherd moved back and forth, among his sheep, and the closer the sheep were to the shepherd, — the greater the flock’s direction, unity, purpose and safety.
So with us, the closer we are to the Lord, the Good Shepherd, the more his direction, unity, purpose and safety take over in our lives.
After all Jesus assures us: “I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be safe.”
So let me say another word about the very special grace of “resilience.”
For the past several years, as I was teaching at Saint Mary’s College, among the course that I taught was “Leadership and Communication.” Clearly, effective communication is an essential tool for leaders.
Many of my students were women, and ready to bring their own leadership skills into focus after graduation. One of the books for the course was “Lean In” by Facebook’s No. 2 executive Sheryl Sandberg.
Her book and website contain important insights and advice for all of us – women and men, when launching into professional life.
Sheryl Sandberg has many firsts after her name – highly paid executive, mother, author, and a much sought after mentor to women.
But at her age — the idea of being a “widow” was not a title she expected. The sudden and unexpected death of her husband Dave, came out of the blue, and while they were on a family vacation in Mexico.
Reflecting on this personal loss, Sandberg has written a new book: “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.”
Even the jacket cover is worth mentioning, designed by Keith Hayes. It is the photograph of a cement cinder-block, on a white background, with a red ballon poised over head tied to a string, and ready to fall.
So once this brick falls, this is a story about “picking up the pieces” in one’s life.
Sandberg writes: “I didn’t get it. I didn’t get how hard it is to succeed at work when you are overwhelmed at home.” She has very personal observations, even suggestions, and with her co-author psychologist Adam Grant, they make a very positive contribution to those facing grief and recovery.
But mostly, she writes about “pre-traumatic growth,” or the ability to build up resilience before something bad happens, so that the person may be able to cope or deal with loss. I would call this a “spiritual life.”
“Tragedy,” Sandberg concludes, “does not have to be personal, pervasive or permanent but resilience can be. We can build it and carry it with us throughout our lives.”
And, in our second reading today, this is what Saint Peter is reminding us: “If you are patience when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.”
In effect, this grace (or resilience) has a long lasting, eternal effect.
Let me end by mentioning that Sandberg draws on the wisdom of people who have faced grave hardships, adversity and even physical violence.
Yet, sometimes, almost like a miracle, such experiences can be turned into a good.
Sandberg mentions Malala Yousafzai, the 19-year old Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Laureate. Malala’s wisdom was most recently evidenced in her words to the Canadian Parliament, this past month when she accepted honorary citizenship.
Malala told the members of Parliament:
Dear brothers and sisters we have a responsibility to improve our world. When future generations read about us in their books or on the iPads or whatever the next innovation may be,
I don’t want them to be shocked that 130 million girls could not go to school and we did nothing. I don’t want them to be shocked that we did not stand up for child refugees, as millions of families fled their homes. I don’t want us to be known as failing them.
Let future generations say we were the ones who stood up. Let them say we were the first to live in a world where all girls can learn and lead without fear.
Today, we celebrate the “Good Shepherd” mindful that he is guiding us still, a “sheep gate,” in which we too can take the personal responsibility for these “precious ones” by becoming shepherds in our own time and place.
This is the kind of grace that Malala speaks of, and to my mind — if we are patient, it will have a long lasting, and eternal effect.