Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily April 24 for the 25th anniversary of the third diaconate class.
When we want to reassure someone that they will be kept safe, we say, “You’re in good hands.”
And as we see from today’s Gospel, Jesus knows that we have that need to be kept safe from all that could harm us. He uses the image of the Good Shepherd caring for his sheep to remind us that he will protect us amid all the dangers we face in life. Regarding the sheep, he says: “No one can take them out of my hand ... and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.” In other words, we’re in good hands with Jesus.
But then, look around. If we’re in such good hands, why do the sheep still suffer and die? You have experienced this throughout your 25 years of diaconal ministry. Jesus says of the sheep, “they shall never perish.” But indeed they do. There are natural disasters — the insurance companies even call them “acts of God” — deadly tornados and earthquakes kill many innocent people every year. Where is God when illness strikes or a drunk driver takes a life? Or when people feel so depressed and burdened that they despair of life? The answer is twofold:
n We live in an imperfect world. Suffering is not a sign of God’s lack of concern. And by the way, good things happen to bad people too — how fair is that? We live in a broken world and so we are vulnerable to being wounded by a world still very much in need of redemption. And as we age, we discover that our own bodies are subject to the laws of physical decline and death. That’s just the way it is. We’re not in paradise yet.
After all, sheep are not pets. The reason shepherds keep sheep is so that they can be shorn of their wool for our benefit and eventually butchered for our nourishment. We aren’t the Lord’s pets; we’re the sheep of his flock. That’s why we call the Church on earth “The Church Militant.” Here we struggle and the Lord uses the adversities we face for his own, often hard to figure out, purposes. Jesus is not offering us an insurance policy against all suffering. The hands of God will not automatically protect us against disasters or illness. Our wool will be sheared off by life — including situations that arise in ministry — and one day we will die.
n If this is the case, how is it that we can say that we are in good hands? The answer is that God is always with us. He holds our hand as we go through all the ups and downs of life. No matter what adversity we face, nothing will separate us from him. Even if we try to push him away because we are angry about some injustice to which we have been exposed, he’s still there by our side throughout the shearing of our wool. Nothing can take us out of Jesus’ hand, which is at the same time the Father’s hand because he says, “The Father and I are one.”
Jesus himself faced rejection, betrayal, torture and death at the hands of evil men and though his Father was with him through it all, he died a cruel death just the same. But the hand of the Father was holding Jesus’ hand as the nail pierced his flesh and secured him to the cross, and the Father was still holding his hand when that hand went limp in death. It was also by strong hand of God that Jesus rose three days later and now he sits at the Father’s right hand in glory.
The same is true for us in ministry when we face challenges in serving the Lord that feel overwhelming and calamities in our own personal life that seem to come from nowhere. Being in the hands of God doesn’t protect us from the vagaries of life, but it makes all the difference in the world when we have to deal with adversity.
Jesus tells us that he has come to give his sheep eternal life and that we shall never perish — meaning that even though death occurs, it has no lasting power over us. If you are looking for a shepherd able to support you in time of suffering and guide you through the final passage to the next life, then Jesus is all you really need. We are in good hands when we take hold of the hand of our Good Shepherd.
Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.”
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