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Saturday, Second Week of Lent

March 18, 2006

Blessed St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Day! (look for his story in the “Saints of Lent” category)

Readings:
Micah 7:14-15, 18-20 (God is merciful)
Psalm 103: 1-12 “The Lord is kind and merciful”
+Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (prodigal son)

Sooner or later we sheep have to come to the conclusion that we need a Shepherd.

Micah’s already come to this conclusion as he pleads with God to again shepherd His people. There is no one better qualified, no one more merciful, no one more powerful, no one more faithful, than God, and he says so. The people to whom Micah’s preaching (Samaritans), however, need a bit more convincing. They’re more like the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable, needing to taste for themselves what it’s like to try shepherd themselves. They need their own version of being sent to feed pigs (unclean animals, absolutely abhorrent to God’s people) and starving in the process.

The Prodigal Son finally came to this same conclusion. “Shepherd me, Father! I’ve learned the hard way how good I had it as your son, what a good shepherd you really are, how faithfully you take care of me, how much you really love me. I need you. You really do know best. I know I don’t deserve to be called your son anymore, but could you at least take me on as a hired hand?” (based on Luke 15:17-19). He still had childlike confidence in his father’s mercy. He dared call him “father”. And while he didn’t expect to be received as a son, neither did he expect to be turned away as an employee. He came humbled, but confident; fully prepared to be shepherded, to submit to whatever his father deemed best for him, but also sure of his welcome and of his father’s goodness.

This is real submission. If we take the word apart we see that “sub” (under) “mission” is to place yourself under the mission of another person (and God is a Trinity of Persons, so this includes Him). The mission of every person is to love, to do what’s best for another even at personal sacrifice. Ultimately, each of us have the mission of helping others draw near to God & get to our ultimate destiny of Heaven. In other words, submission is allowing another person love you. It’s cooperating with their efforts to point you to God and Heaven. Once the Prodigal Son experienced the fruits of his rebellion, which cut him off from love and left him in a pigsty, this cooperation became not only possible, but rather attractive!

The elder brother in the story demonstrates that submission, being shepherded, isn’t just about following rules. He followed the rules. For years he slaved away for his father in external obedience, but in his heart he still wanted to shepherd himself. He still had no idea how good he had it. He allowed himself to be shepherded only reluctantly, resentfully. He had no gratitude for his father’s wisdom, guidance, protection and provision. He didn’t really know that he needed his father’s shepherding. He had no memory of a pigsty spurring him on to humble receptivity of his father’s love.

We too try to shepherd ourselves, to “go it on our own”, whether externally in open rebellion or internally in resentful adherence to the letter of the law. It’s called sin, and it hurts us as much as it hurt the Kingdom of Samaria, taken into exile; as much as it hurt the Prodigal Son, starving in the pigsty; as much as it hurt the elder brother, spending the night in bitter isolation outside his own home while a joyful celebration went on inside. Sooner or later, we have to come to realize how good it is to be shepherded, to be loved, to be helped on our way to Heaven by the Good Shepherd Himself, who laid down His life for us. We have to come home, heart and soul, and let Him lead us.

May we open ourselves to our Shepherd’s mercy, welcome His redemption and share His joy.

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