Yesterday I received an e-mail asking me to identify members of the Democratic Party that I thought would make good presidential candidates. I don’t believe I have ever been asked such a question before. It made me stop and think about what kind of person I would like to fill that role. Now I am sure that most of us have an idea or two about the subject. We all have certain expectations of the person who fills this office.
I didn’t answer the e-mail. As I was considering the question, I thought to myself, “I don’t have time for this. I still have to prepare my homily for tomorrow.” So I put the e-mail aside and opened the Scriptures and started to read and think about and pray over the readings for today’s Mass. As I was doing so, I realized that just as I have expectations regarding the office of president, the Jewish people who lived two thousand years ago had expectations about the Messiah who had been promised. Interestingly, most of their expectations were not met in the person who ultimately filled the role of Messiah. Jesus was not the man they were expecting.
The one who saved us was not a mighty warrior who came in military array. There were no weapons; there was no show of force. The one who saved us is the one who was rejected. He was hunted down, humiliated, tortured, and hung naked on a tree, dying in shame. Psalm 118 and St. Peter refer to him as the stone which was rejected but who has become the cornerstone.
Today we hear that Messiah, that Savior, describe himself as a Good Shepherd. The word “good” might be misunderstood in this context. One might think that Jesus is telling us that as a shepherd he knew what to do and could do it well, that he had shepherding skills, much the same as a plumber has good plumbing skills. However, a better translation might be that Jesus called himself a Noble Shepherd. This designation is not about his ability or skills. It is about what he was willing to do for us.
This characterization of the One who saved us should give us pause. Perhaps we look in the wrong places for leaders. Perhaps we have appropriated the mind-set of our own day and believe that evil can only be corrected through force. Perhaps we think it is necessary to be in the public eye and accepted according to popular standards in order to accomplish something wonderful and worthwhile.
Peter makes it very clear when he addresses the leaders of the people and the elders of Israel. The crippled man was saved by the name of Jesus. Peter could have stood there and told them that it was his own power which had healed the man. Instead, he tells the elders that the man was saved by a man they had killed but whom God had raised. Salvation has come to us through someone who allowed himself to be vulnerable. He set aside his power and became human to show us that salvation does not come through power. It comes through love. It comes through faithfulness.
In response to this statement, the Church leads us in praising God by using Psalm 118, a song of thanksgiving. Here again, however, my attention was caught by the fact that we are thanking God not so much for what God has done, but for who God is. God is the faithful one; and it is God’s faithfulness, God’s fidelity, that motivates our praise and thanks. I am sure that you are accustomed to saying “thank you” when someone does something for you. If your spouse or your children give you a gift, you tell them how grateful you are for their generosity. How many of us say thank you to our loved ones simply for the fact that they are faithful to us? It is this quality that really speaks of love. It isn’t the gifts we give that define us so much as the faithfulness we have in our relationships. I cannot help but mention this today as we are joined by all these young couples making an engaged encounter this weekend. Your faithfulness to one another must be the cornerstone of the building of your marriage just as God’s faithfulness to us is the cornerstone of the building of our faith.
St. John reminds us of this in his First Letter. God’s love for us makes it possible to regard ourselves as children of that love. Just as the love of a man and woman brings forth children, God’s love for his people brings forth children - spiritual children. Love is by its very nature generative. It creates life. God’s love for us in Jesus has won eternal life for those who believe.
We have been saved by a Noble Shepherd who put a human face on God’s fidelity to the promises made to those who believe. It is that faithfulness that saved us, that makes it possible for us to be called children of God. Throughout this day, let us give thanks to the Lord, for God is good; God’s faithfulness endures forever.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator