April 25, 2021
Fourth Sunday of Easter
1 John 3:1-2
We humans can at times be a maze of contradictions. There are times when we feel lost and desperately hope to be found; not that we’re lost in the usual way we think about being lost. Sometimes we’re just not sure where it is we’re going, where life is taking us. We’d like to be shown, or at least given a hint of it all. That would be nice, we think. Yet because we are human, most of us also prefer to make our own mistakes in life. It’s not that we admit that out loud, but to ourselves we simply prefer our own reasoning, even if we may feel lost.
Elie Wiesel was a Nobel Laureate, a noted author and spiritual writer, and a survivor of the Holocaust. He died in 2016. In one of his courses on the journey into faith that he taught at Boston University he offered this image.
You are walking in a forest. You’re lost, it’s getting dark, you hear unfamiliar sounds, and you’re starting to panic. Suddenly, you hear footsteps crashing through the underbrush. A person steps out onto the path in front of you.
“Hey!” you say. “Do you know the way out of here?”
He looks at you, breathing hard, and says, “I don’t know the way out. But I can tell you one thing: That way is bad news!”
Sometimes life is trial and error – maybe most of the time. Other times it seems to demand some bulldozing, straight ahead, whether we know where it’s going or not, for it seems at the time to be our best option. And then there are those times when we feel as if we’re tip-toeing through the tulips, afraid each step might bruise or step on what is most precious. All of that is what I mean when I say we’d like to be found, hoping for someone to say, “Let me show you. I know the way.” And if not that, then maybe just to tell us that the way we’re going is bad news.
There can be wolves at our doors, at least on some days, and they’d like nothing more than to feast off of us. That’s when we need someone to shepherd us, someone who knows us well enough to keep us from tripping over ourselves and into disaster, even when we aren’t always willing to listen.
This Sunday’s gospel is that of the Good Shepherd, but it’s not the shepherd who finds us when we are lost and carries us home. Neither is it the shepherd who leads us and guides us out of life’s morass. No, this gospel is about the shepherd who protects us from the threatening wolves, who is willing to put down his life for us. This week’s shepherd doesn’t go out to find us when we are lost, simply because he knows us only too well. He knows the part of us that thinks we can find our own way out of the forest. So, he’s there to protect us as we fumble and bumble our way through it.
Though there may be those times when we do fall flat on our face, it is amazing how often, in retrospect, life could have been so much worse than how it turned out to be. Too many times wolves have lurked at my door, eager to have their way, and too many times I have been protected by a presence other than myself and even without my knowing. Often enough, I’ve been protected from making myself so secure that even God would have a difficult time breaking through. I’ve been protected, as well, from surrendering to a desire for revenge that would have paralyzed me, and protected from loving someone too selfishly, as all love is tempted to do, and protected from hoarding life beyond anything I might ever need, and from so many other human instincts that lurk in all of our shadows.
To be honest, I don’t know how all such protecting happens, except that I know that it does. Knowing myself and how I can sometimes slip into ways that are not so life-giving, there’s no other way to explain it other than someone watching and protecting me from my worst self.
Some will call it all happenstance or fate or kismet, the way we seem to be protected from our selves. Others will give the credit to guardian angels. Ultimately, I believe it’s the loving presence of our God who protects us from what might have been, only for us to realize we’ve been in the fold of common sense and an underserved harbor of love all along.
When has your life mysteriously unfolded better than you’d expected?
When have you been mysteriously protected from your worst self?