4 Easter C – April 25, 2010 – Recalculating the Church’s Journey
When global positioning systems (GPS) first appeared in our cars they were magical. How does that little device know exactly where we are and that voice, how does it know what to say? When you disagree with the directions and try to go your own way the voice scolds you tells you to get back on course. Even if you are stubborn and don’t listen it still recalculates your trip.
During the Easter season we hear voices from the early church about the radical impact of Christ’s resurrection on their lives. It changed them completely. Their leader was gone and did not leave good directions. What were his followers to do? Today, we heard about what is considered the first missionary journey.
Apparently, the routine for these apostles was the same. They went from town to village and preached in the synagogues. While some people converted, others rejected the message and stirred up opposition against the disciples.  For example, Paul and Barnabas, in today’s reading, were chased out of Antioch. There was no guarantee that what these faithful missionaries preached would be welcomed by anyone. But even if they wavered in the face of opposition they continued to spread the message. They were like a global positioning system that keeps us on track with an unrelenting voice.
Today’s gospel deals with the sheep who listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. By trusting in the guidance of the shepherd the sheep do not have to worry about taking wrong turns or coming to a dead end.
How did Jesus happen to be called a shepherd in these stories? Wasn’t he a carpenter or stone mason? Even though shepherds are sometimes depicted as disheveled and dishonest their job demanded much responsibility. They had to keep the sheep together, nourish them and protect them from harm. It’s like the image we find in today’s second reading. That shepherd is one who cares about people, who will guide them to the “springs of life-giving water.”
If we were writing biblical texts today we might be tempted to describe Jesus as a GPS or as they are referred to in some ads, a “personal navigator.” All we would have to do is listen to the voice of Jesus and trust that it will guide us in the right direction. However, there are so many voices out there today on TV and radio, in the press, it is hard to tune into the voice of reason and truth. One has to listened attentively.
You hear about travelers who faithfully follow the voice in the little GPS device only to end up at a dead end. That’s because the system is not perfect. Either something blocks the satellite signal or the maps are outdated. Constant recalculation of the route is important if you want to get where you are going.
Today civic and religious communities desperately need clear direction. The political and spiritual landscapes are constantly changing all across the globe. It’s difficult to keep maps up to date. Lately, it seems, leaders are more confounded by current events and shifting waves of public opinion and do not know where to turn. Here in the United States, a country born out of a fierce sense of independence, citizens of all kinds, regardless of party affiliation, want to be served by elected officials but not at the expense of freedom. Sometimes the common good is lost in the search for independence.
The same is true of most American Catholics. We want solid leadership and clear direction but not at the expense of giving up baptismal rights and the opportunity to collaborate in creating a vision for the Church like the seer John in that second reading. When sheep sense that shepherds are lost or have strayed off course they might try to find their own way. Once the flock starts dispersing, and the sheep start taking off in different directions, the strength of the common bond is weakened. Inevitably some sheep get lost or hurt.
The early church endured and grew in number because the members kept together and shared what they had in common. They took advantage of their diverse gifts to carry out different tasks. No one person did it all. Even though there were apostles and disciples the development of Christianity depended on the response of the people.
Throughout the history of Christianity, with all of its successes and failures, its graces and sins, the church lives on because the members never stop listening to the voice of Jesus the good shepherd. It is an unrelenting, spirited instrument telling us, laity and clergy alike, what direction to take especially when we get off track.
1 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition) pp. 429-431.