Homily – 4th Sunday of Easter – 30th April 2023
This Gospel passage underscores for me what a fragile thing, how easily threatened, our sense of identity is as separate individual human beings, our sense of who we are, what we are, why we are.
So much of our contact with the institutions of society has been structured in such a way as to be very dehumanising, depersonalising. Just look through your wallet, or purse, or desk drawers sometime. Thumb through all the cards and pieces paper, even emails that describe you as a number. Try to trace your records though a book, a hospital, or revenue. So many times, there isn’t much more than a computer file to show that a human being has passed through those institutions, experienced them.
This kind of reflection gives great impact to the image that Christ draws of himself in this Gospel reading, the image of the shepherd that knows his sheep and calls each of them by name. In all of God’s people there is no such thing as a faceless, nameless number. We are, after all, what God has made us to be, uniquely valuable individuals, individual enough to be known and recognised by Christ as a person apart from any other person and valuable enough to be loved by Him.
Now that is a staggering thought when it really sinks in. We are, each one of us, completely known to Christ. Just think for a moment of all the things about yourself that you like. All the virtues, the strengths, the temptations resisted, the challenges met, the good deeds done that somehow seem to go unnoticed and unrespected by the people around you.
And then think about all of the things about ourselves that we try hard to keep hidden from the people around us: the weaknesses, the fears, the vices that are really more embarrassing than evil. The sort of qualities that we fear would make us a good deal less loved, less respected, if they were known.
Well, they are known. All of the virtue in each of us is seen and known and named by Christ. The world may not notice nor be much impressed by our personal struggles to be virtuous. But that really doesn’t matter. Christ does.
And the weakness too. The great truth that is Christ loves and calls us by name weak and foolish and fearful people. Christ has no distain or contempt for our faults. He calls us away from those faults certainly. He encourages, leads, and shepherds us away from them. But even that is a gentle and loving procedure. There is, finally, only one measure of what we are, any of us, and that is the great truth that Christ calls each of us by name.