Out Into Unknown Pastures

4th Sunday of Easter | May 3, 2020

See today’s readings here. This homily was preached online due to Covid-19. Video recordings of the Sunday evening Mass, where Fr. Brian regularly preaches, are available on Facebook at Delaware Koinonia. The archive of all of Fr. Brian’s homilies can be found hereSalesian Sermons


2 years ago, I had the opportunity to chaperone a group of students down to Ecuador.

Now, you may consider this a low bar, but I judge the success of an immersion trip by whether or not I have safely returned all of the students to their parents in one piece.

And this particular group of students was not exactly making this easy.

One insisted on demonstrating a backward flip on a concrete patio.

Another tried to scale a wall to retrieve a soccer ball that had lodged on the roof.

And the entire group insisted on consuming homemade popsicles despite no guarantees of where the water came from.

But at least, each evening, when we returned home, we entered a gated compound with a guard stationed at the entrance.

Once we were through that gate, I knew we were safe.

Until that 1st night, when the yearlong volunteers from our partner organization came up to me and said, so we’ve got a strange request.

It seems your students want us to open the gate so they can play soccer with some of the teenagers from the neighborhood.

It’s funny.  No group has ever asked for us to do this before.  But it’s your call.

Dusk was already beginning to descend on the streets of Monte Sinai and I was super apprehensive.

We didn’t know all of these kids.

It was getting dark.

What if?  What if?  What if?

Hesitantly, I said, I guess it would be ok.  I’ll go out there with them of course.

And so began the nightly ritual that would define the trip.

Each evening the guys could come back from a busy day, quickly prep dinner and then race outside into the twilight to play intense games of soccer, as dozens of neighbors and families joined to watch.

By the time, we finished, it was completely dark.  And it was difficult to tell anyone apart. All I witnessed were tons of high fives, fist pumps, arms around shoulders and hugs as everyone departed for the evening.

I kept returning to that scene as I listened to the Gospel for this weekend.

Because I couldn’t help but think of the role of the gate in Christ’s image.

I guess for so long I always assumed that the gate was about keeping people out.  Sheltering the chosen sheep from the frightening world outside.

Which makes sense to a point.

For in my own experience, gates, walls, fences, locked doors.  They all serve the same purpose.  

To keep me safe by keeping someone else out.

The other.  The stranger.  The enemy.  The threat.

But the crazy thing is, when I actually re-read this passage, I realized something deeply unsettling.

The gate is wide open.  And the shepherd is deliberately leading the sheep OUT of the safe confines of their pen into the unknown pastures that await.

And in that revelation, I came to see that I had been missing the point.

See Jesus as the Good Shepherd is not promising us a life of comfort and security.

He is not promising us that we, the Chosen few, will be kept safe from the storms that rage.

On the contrary he calls each of us to follow him out into the pastures that await.

To find the other sheep who are scattered across every hill and valley.

To see in them our sister and brother who belong to our fold.

For there is one Good Shepherd and we are all his sheep.

So my friends, this week.  Let us metaphorically leave the confines of our pens, even as we must remain inside.  To unlock the gate and go seek and find our fellow sheep.

Let us wear the masks and stand 6 feet apart and stay at home if we are able, not because it keeps us safe, but because it may keep another safe.

Let us make the phone call to our relative who is elderly or our college friend who is struggling with mental health or our colleague who is going crazy with two toddlers stuck at home.

Let us share what we have with those who need it.  

Let us donate blood and box up food for the food bank.  Let us record ourselves reading stories for little kids and write letters to our neighbors in an assisted care facility. 

Let us venmo our hairdresser an advance on our next haircut or send a little extra cash to the neighbor who got furloughed or tip generously the young man who comes with our order.  

Let us write the check to our favorite nonprofit still doing the work even amidst all the uncertainty.  Let us make our signs for the senior who is graduating and drop off baked goods to the nurse coming home from his shift and send flowers to the teacher who is still trying to do the best she can.

There are a million ways for each of us to go outside of ourselves this week.  To walk out the gates that have propped open for us by the one who walks before us.

And yes, they will cost us.  Time.  Energy.  Resources.  Gifts we have been given not for ourselves, but for the sake of the world.

For in each sacrifice we make for the sake of our fellow sheep.  We grow ever closer to the Shepherd who gently whispers.

Do this in remembrance of me.

May God be Praised

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