Saturday, April 29, 2023

Trust in the Good Shepherd: Homily for the fourth Sunday of Easter 2023

The Good Shepherd, Sieger Köder

My dear brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ,

Today’s lectionary challenges us. It asks us how seriously we take those words “Lord Jesus Christ.”  Let us listen again to an extract from the first reading, which is from the Acts of the Apostles:

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed:
"Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."

Peter, the spiritual heir to Christ, stands up with the eleven – the seeds of the new Israel – the very men who have transmitted the faith to us. And so, this testament of Peter is the voice of the early church that speaks to us in unanimity. And what do they say to us, through the voice of Peter?

"Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."

You, my dear brothers and sisters are the house of Israel, and Peter asserts That Jesus is Lord, and Christ, and that you – yes, I am looking at you – have crucified him. Jesus was crucified precisely because He was not accepted as either Lord or Christ, and when we do not take His position as Lord or Christ seriously, we too are guilty of participating in His crucifixion.

There are in the contemporary world, in India, and Goa, very serious challengers to the Lordship of Christ in our lives. Three of these I can clearly identify, the first is the family, the second the market, and the third the nation-state.

All of us in Goa know, whether consciously or otherwise, that all too often our primary allegiance is not to Christ, but to family interests. It does not matter if what we are doing is contrary to Christ’s commands, we nevertheless do so because it secures family interests. These politics can include securing the interests of one’s children, whether to get ahead in school, or to ensure that they inherit larger estates that they might otherwise get. Sometimes it includes the continuation of silly family feuds, taking sides in a petty problem that we should not be involving ourselves with in the first place.

Know this, unless you subject your family interests to Christ, you are guilty of not accepting Jesus as Lord and Christ and crucifying him.

The other great challenger to Christ is the market. All too often work is the deity we worship in contravention to the two crucial commandments that Christ identified, love of God, and love of our neighbour. How many people I wonder, despite the fact that they could, took off from work so that they might worship properly at the parish feast of St. Thomas yesterday? Too often feasts have been moved to Sunday, ensuring that the worship of God and His saints is displaced in favour of worship of the market.

The third idol that we prostrate before instead of Christ is the nation-state, whether in India, or elsewhere, which demands primary allegiance to itself. In India the problem is particularly exacerbated since allegiance to the nation-state is tied up not just with Brahmanical rituals, but also the false gospel of decolonization. While there is every virtue in challenging colonial power relations, decolonization in India, and other parts of the world, have often come to mean overthrowing the certainty of the teaching of the Church, the overthrowing of a Christian outlook on the world, to replace it with pagan perspectives.

Christianity teaches us the existence of an objective truth. This moral clarity is not a feature of the postcolonial order, where there are multiple truths, and everything is negotiable. Let me offer you a simple example of how this plays out in our daily lives. Ask yourself when was the last time you experienced traffic in Goa flowing according to the rules? Everything is now negotiable, there are no clear rules anymore, indeed, most people on the roads don’t even know the rules. Worse, sometimes you yourself – and I am talking about myself here – will break the rules because you have forgotten them or do not think them relevant at that point. If this is the case with the roads, can you imagine the scenario when the armed forces will be “decolonized” as the present regime is contemplating?

And it was for this reason that in the first reading today St. Peter exhorts us, as he exhorted the Jews he was speaking with,

"Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."

Turning away from these false gods is, in fact, fairly simple. As in the letter of St. Peter we just read: have no deceit in your mouth, and commit no sin.

Since today follows the parish feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, I would like to invite all of you to look up the altar mor, the high altar, and look at the status of St. Thomas right at the very top. St. Thomas holds a carpenter’s or architect’s try-square in his hand. This try square could well be a sign of his trade, but it holds a deeper symbolical meaning as well. The try square is used to determine if the wood one is working is indeed at right angles, which is to say to determine if its angle is truth. St. Thomas then, is set towards the truth, his rule is the Truth, and this truth is Jesus whom he confessed as Lord, and God.

Jesus, our Lord, is the Truth, and He invites us to enter into the truth, through Him, since, as He says  to us today, in the Gospel according to John:

Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.….

I am the gate.

Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.

Christ teaches us through the scripture, through the tradition received via the Apostles, and through His bride, our Holy Mother, the Church. Turn to these three sources of teaching and we cannot go wrong. And indeed, we all know that we don’t need to make any grand moves, all we need do is make small decisions correctly. Privilege the teachings of Christ over our commitment to false loyalities within the family and clan. Recognise that the market and our job are not the most important thing in the world; and that listening to the teachings of Holy Mother Church will always ensure that even if we are acting against the desires of the leaders of the nation-state, we are in fact acting in the state’s best interest.

In the same portion on today’s Gospel which I extracted earlier, where Christ tells us that He is the gate, He also tells us about those who would contend to vie with Him for our attention and loyalty.

All who came before me are thieves and robbers….

A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy

In other words, the tree is known by its fruits, and we don’t need to look far to realise that contemporary Goa, where most of us put only the most nominal truth and faith in Christ, is in fact marked by stealing, slaughter, and destruction. These are the wages of the corrupt generation that Christ asks us to save ourselves from.

To follow Christ, is not, however, easy. This much is clear. Else we would all be fervent Christians. Betray your family’s mistaken agendas and you will be subject to all manner of emotional blackmail, and this is the best case scenario. Put the market in its correct place and you could lose your job; challenge the nation-state and, well you know how that could end. But, as the first letter of Peter which we heard today assures us:

If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.

For to this you have been called,

The life of a Christian, dear brothers and sisters, is not about the good life. It is about a life that is often at odds with the world, a world where one has to suffer.  To echo St. Peter, “to this you have been called”! The life of the Christian is not about the good life, it is really about preparation for the good death. For it is once we are dead and have spurned all the trials and temptations that the Evil One casts before us throughout our life that we come to enjoy eternal reward.

Until we get there, however, we have to echo to ourselves in confidence the words of the psalm we heard today:

              The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Even though I walk in the dark valley

I fear no evil; for you are at my side.

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Remember then, that you are never alone, for He is there at your side with His crook and His staff and He will guide you in right paths, offering you courage and rest along the way. He will feed you at His table, and finally offer you space in His house for all your life.

(A version of this homily was first delivered at the Mass in English at the parish church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Aldona on 30 April 2023.)

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