Apr. 21, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2018

WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN: THE NOW AND THE NOT YET

Readings: 1st- Acts 4:8-12; 2nd- 1 Jn. 3:1-2; Gospel- Jn. 10:11-18 

I visited one of my very good friends on Thursday. She is ninety years old, a holy woman. What she did was to ask me to hear her confessions as usual. This time she said it’s in preparation for her death. She narrated that she needed to prepare adequately for the next journey. At the end of our conversation, she wrote a Mass card and gave me names of those I should say Mass for. Then she gave me one final intention, “Say mass for me in preparation for death”. Ironically, this friend of mine isn’t sick. She walks on her own and still drives her car. She visits the homebound till date and gives them Holy Communion. Don’t think she’s confined in one place waiting for death. No. She remarked that everything in her life had always been done by preparation. She gave examples: “I prepared for my trip to Europe. I prepared to have my children. I prepared for their baptisms. I prepared for everything. If I did prepare that much for my trip to Europe, why wouldn’t I prepare for the greatest trip in my life, which is death? Isn’t that interesting? 

If we think of the conversation above in relation to the second reading, we appreciate our relationship with God. Jesus taught us to call God, “Our Father”. And Saint John says, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called God’s children”. Then he emphasizes, “Yes, so we are”. In John’s passage, we see the relationship between being God’s children and being image of God’s love. At creation God says, “Let us make man in our image (tselem) and likeness” (Gen. 1:28). Then in the New Testament, John writes, “God is love” (1 Jn.4:8). We are God’s children because of God’s love. As children of God and image of Love, we are God’s representative here on earth. That is why the world wouldn’t know us. We enjoy God’s privilege of bearing his image on earth. We have dominion over all creatures. We are filiated through Christ. With Christ, we become con-filiated (adoption) into God’s love. Then St. Paul tells us, “Since you have been raised up to be with Christ, you must look for the things that are above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand” (Col. 3:1). We are thus “trans-filiated” beyond earthly things into the perfection that will be at the end of time. That’s hope for the future. We become God’s image on earth, then behold the fullness of that image in heaven. 

Saint John writes, “what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn.3:2). This gives us an idea of what my friend described at the beginning. That we shall see God as he is should be something to prepare for with excitement. It’s a certainty as John says, “We do know”. We do know that we shall see God as he is. The author of the book of Revelation writes, “They will see the Lord face to face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (22:4-5). Heaven is about perfection where we will see God as He is. On earth, we have a privilege of catching a glimpse of him through created realities. The waters reveal him. The trees reveal him. The daylight reveals him. But humanity is the fullness of God’s glory on earth. The prophet Isaiah writes, “I will not yield my glory to another” (48:11). The “now” is who we are and what we live out, namely, God’s children. The “not yet”, is what we hope for, namely, to behold God’s face at the end of time. 

The gospel demonstrates how strong God’s love is for us. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (Jn.10:11). Jesus is the good shepherd for our sake:

1. “A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”. Jesus lays down his life for us. He is willing to die for his flock. He is committed to the safety of his flock. Jesus depicts his death and resurrection in his statement, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again”. 

2. “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me”. Jesus uses his relationship with the Father to describe his relationship with his sheep. Jesus knows us and wants us to know him, to be intimate with him as our shepherd. 

3. “A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away”. Unlike the hireling, the good shepherd sacrifices for the sheep, goes ahead to protect them. The good shepherd takes care of the weak ones in the sheepfold. The good shepherd is different from the shepherds described in the Old Testament (Jer. 23::1-4; Ezk. 34:5-6). The hirelings become threat to the sheep. Christ is the good shepherd, and as David writes in the Psalms, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want” (Ps. 23:1). 

4. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd”. Christ is advocating for the unity of mankind. At the end of time, Christ wants all to be united in God’s kingdom.

Think about this story that has been going around on social media for some days now. A little boy walks up to Pope Francis crying. He can’t just speak into the microphone. The little boy can’t ask his question because of the grief in his heart. So, Pope Francis asks them to bring the boy to him. He whispers into the ears of the pope about his atheist dad who died recently but had all his four children baptized in the church, “Is my dad in heaven?” That was a tough question. The pope said that God decides who goes to heaven, and that God has “the heart of a father.” He asked the young girls and boys in the audience if they thought God would abandon a father like Emanuele’s, who was a good man. “No,” the children shouted back. “There, Emanuele, that is the answer,” the pope said to the boy. “God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier as a believer to baptize your children than to baptize them when you are not a believer. Surely this pleased God very much.” The pope had earlier said in his homily that this principle of doing good to others is one that unites all of humanity, including atheists; “Just do good and we’ll find a meeting point”.

The question of going to heaven may not be tough for us because we are already God’s children. That’s who we are. It’s our privilege. It’s a thing of joy to imagine that we are going to see Him as He is. But we must prepare for it by listening to the good shepherd, and following him. It is hard for nonbelievers who refuse to answer God’s children on earth. Christ’s prayer is to unite all of us at the end, “and there will be one flock, one shepherd”.