by Canon David Hussey
She died about two weeks ago. She was young, only in her forties. Her mom, Angela is the housekeeper for a friends church and daycare. Fr. Bill persuaded her to take some time off and stay home. “Don’t worry about your
job” he told her, “everything will be okay.” A couple of days later, Fr. Bill bumped into one of the teachers, who had stayed after school to sweep out the classrooms and clean the bathrooms. She didn’t want to be paid. This was for
Angela and her daughter. She was laying down her life that Angela might have some time for tears, memories, rest and prayers. It was a gift of love.
So often we think that love is all about feelings, sweet words and emotions. Now there’s nothing wrong with those things and they can be a legitimate part of love. We all want to be told that we are loved. We want to feel that warmth, security and tenderness that comes with love. But at some point, love, if it is to be real, must become tangible, shown not only in words and feelings but by actions.
In this case, a teacher armed with a broom, a mop, a bucket and rubber gloves were the signs and means of love. “Little children“ John writes in his first letter, “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (1 John 3:18)
So what does this story have to do with Easter, Resurrection and the Good Shepherd? EVERYTHING. It has everything to do with Easter, Resurrection and the Good Shepherd. God’s love for us and for all of humanity became real in the life, death and resurrection of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus acted out God’s love
for us and for the whole world.
“We know love by this” John tells us, “that he laid down his life for us.” In laying down his life, Jesus chose us. He was not a victim of someone else’s power or agenda. Jesus freely gave his life for us, a choice and a gift that he made because of his love for us. That is what makes Jesus the good shepherd.
The hired hand trades his time for wages, a business transaction, quid pro quo. He may or may not care about the sheep. The good shepherd, however, lives and dies for love of his flock. He knows them and they know him, just as the Father knows him and he knows the Father. The very same relationship that Jesus has with his Father, we can have with Jesus. This relationship of deep knowing, the Hebrew word is Hesed, is one of intimacy and love, between the Father and Jesus and between Jesus and all of humanity. In Jesus we are able to know God’s love.
This intimate love is at the heart of the resurrection and the life that Jesus lived and calls us to live with him. Resurrection is about laying down that kind of love. Four times in John’s Gospel, Jesus says that he lays down his life. Four times he says to us, “I love you,” Four times he describes the pattern for our lives and John’s letter is quite clear: “He laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
For Christ, love is ‘LIVED’ and how we live, is always a choice. It is a choice driven by our recognition of, compassion for and willingness to do something about the life and needs of another human being, another beloved child of God; whether they are in our own family, our church or a total stranger. We cannot claim to believe in Jesus, if we are unwilling to lay down our life for another. If we believe, we will love. If we do not love, then we do not believe.
Our belief in Jesus cannot be separated from how and whom we love. Our belief in Jesus is shown by our laying down our life for another. Even if we never say the name “Jesus” laying down our life for another, shows the world who we follow.
Whenever we lay down our life for another, we proclaim that resurrection is not just an event from the past. In our actions, we tell the world that it is a present reality and not just a good thing to remember. Laying down our life makes
Jesus’ resurrection real. The only reason we can ever lay down our life for another is because Jesus first laid down his life for us. The shepherd never takes his flock somewhere he is unwilling to go. He never asks of his sheep something that he is unwilling to do. Every time we lay down our life for another, we remember Jesus’ death and proclaim his resurrection.
The opportunities for ‘laying down our life kind of love’ are all around us. You don’t have to go far or look too hard. They are the family, friends and co-workers we see every day. They are the folks of our church and our own neighborhood and they are the strangers just passing through. They are the anonymous ones, those without names or faces, the ones that we make reference to when we talk about “Issues” such as poverty, hunger, education or the homeless. The opportunities for laying down our life kind of love are not just circumstances. They are people, like you and me, human beings, created in the image and likeness of God and beloved by Him.
We need only to be present, open our eyes, listen and pay attention to know and where Love asks us to lay down our life for another. The laying down our life kind of love means we will have to change. It is not longer business as usual,
same old - same old. The life and well being of “The Other” now sets our agenda, guides our decisions and determines our actions. If you think about it, that sounds an awful lot like how the Good Shepherd lived and died. Laying down our life is not, however, the end of life. It wasn’t for Jesus, nor will it be for us. Rather, it is the Beginning of a new life, a more authentic life, a life that looks a lot like Jesus’ life. It is the life in and by which, we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd calling our name, to follow him where he leads us.