4th Sunday of Easter, Year A
6-9 year olds
(Adults, begin by reading the Gospel aloud to the child, unless the child is a very fluent reader.)
Here it is, one of the best loved parables! Or, at least, here is one part of the parable. It is interesting that the church picks this part of the parable to proclaim this Sunday, because in it we hear trouble seven times.
In the Bible, seven means perfect. In this reading then, we have the perfect storm of trouble.
Three times Jesus mentions thieves, twice he mentions bandits, and twice he mentions strangers. A thief might steal a sheep away from the flock, a bandit might cause a sheep harm, and a stranger might lead a sheep astray. We can say that Jesus seems a little concerned about the safety of the sheep.
We know that parables are stories--they are mysteries--that help us think more deeply about God. We have to ask ourselves then, what more does Jesus want us to know?
What could thieves, bandits, strangers be like? What sorts of things distract us from following the Good Shepherd?
Sometimes we are stolen away by things that are really not bad at all--like sports, or video games, or reading--unless they take up all of our time and effort. Until we realize after awhile that we have spent little time with family, and even less time with Jesus.
Sometimes we lose sight of the Good Shepherd by things that harm us. Worries or fears. Sorrow or loneliness. Our problems can seem so big that we cannot see how Jesus can help.
Sometimes we are distracted from following the Good Shepherd by our tendencies. Some of us tend to fight with the people we love, some of us tend to say mean things about others, some of us tend to lie. It's not a pleasant thought, but it is the truth, and Jesus knows it.
So what does Jesus do about it? How does he answer this perfect storm of trouble?
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
He answers with abundance. How can we understand this?
If I was hungry and you gave me half your sandwich, then I wouldn't be hungry anymore. That would be enough. It would solve my problem. Perfect. (And thank-you for sharing, by the way.)
But if I was hungry and you invited me to sit at a table beautifully prepared and you offered me all the finest foods, that would be abundance. Way more than enough. Problem not only solved, but forgotten entirely.
Abundance is more than perfect.
Into our trouble, Jesus comes with abundant life. He has it, doesn't he? That Risen Life, that life of God, that eternal life that can never end. And he offers it to us.
When we are Baptized, and the water filled with the Holy Spirit is poured over or heads, we receive the promise of this Risen Life of God.
When we go to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and our sins are taken absolutely away, we receive an infusion of the Risen Life of God.
When we are invited to the Eucharist, at the table beautifully prepared with the finest food offered to us, we receive a taste of the Risen Life of God.
These are all sacraments, aren't they? There are seven sacraments. A perfect number to answer the perfect storm.
But, in this time of pandemic, none of us are receiving the sacraments. Are we left on our own in this trouble?
Remember, abundance is more than perfect. The Good Shepherd,
calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
Jesus doesn't say that he "called" his own sheep. He's not done. He's still doing it.
Jesus doesn't say he "will lead" them out. He's not waiting for the pandemic to be over. He's doing it now.
And the sheep?
and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
We have the Word of God, and in it we hear his voice.
And it is abundant life.