Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53
Listen carefully to the second alleluia verse from today’s Mass: Alleluia, alleluia! The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice, says the Lord, I know them and they follow me. Alleluia!
In biblical times sheep from a number of flocks would be gathered in a single sheepfold for protection during the night. In the morning each shepherd would open the gate of the sheepfold and call his sheep. The sheep which belong to the shepherd listened to his voice and followed him out to pasture. Delightful image, isn’t it? Lovely to imagine.
We, of course, are the sheep. God enters the sheepfold by becoming man in Jesus, the good Shepherd. He comes into the world and calls us. Those of us who belong to him listen to his voice. He knows us and we follow him. Again, a beautiful thought, a lovely image which, as the Opening Prayer of the Mass says fills our hearts with the ‘warmth of your love.’
But the rest of the sheep, what about them? It’s ok for us luxuriate in the sunshine of God’s love as we follow him along the path to heaven but what about the rest? They are left behind. They do not belong to him – they do not listen to his voice – he does not know them – they do not follow him. I know we resist the thought but – they are doomed!
The Scriptures speak of them in clear and unmistakable terms: they are doomed because they do not belong to Jesus.
Are you getting uncomfortable? Are you beginning to feel the division in these words? You should be, and so should I.
So what is it that has divided the sheep? What is it that has determined who belongs to Jesus’ flock and who doesn’t? Paradoxically, it is Jesus himself! Jesus, the Saviour, the Shepherd, the Lord who prayed: May they all be one; he is himself the cause of division!
This is for two reasons. Firstly, Jesus did not come just to ‘be with’ the sheep, he wanted them to be with him and, of course, we know that to be with Jesus is to be like Jesus.
Secondly, he came to lead out those who were his, to bring them to the Father with whom he was one: Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I in you... I want those you have given me to be with me where I am... .
And so it is the call of Jesus which divides us: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. Do you get the message? There is nothing more divisive than the truth. And before the truth which Jesus claims to be - we must all choose.
In this strange, confused generation so besotted with catch cries borrowed from the business world, like ‘welcoming and inclusive’, the gospel of truth, which divide not only mother from daughter, but also joints from the marrow (Heb 4:12), stands as the Word which alone can save.
Next week someone will actually ask Jesus the question: Sir, will there be only a few saved? There is nothing at all welcoming and inclusive about Jesus’ answer, nor about the narrow door which he tells us to try our best to enter because many will try to enter and not succeed.
How different is this teaching from those false gurus who pervert the gospel and tell people that it’s very difficult to go to Hell and (nearly) everyone goes to heaven? For them the road to heaven is wide and the road to hell is narrow when actually the Gospel puts it exactly the other way round.
It brings to mind this verse from Lamentations 2:14: The visions your prophets had on your behalf were delusive, tinsel things, they never pointed out your sin, to ward off your exile. The visions they proffered you were false, fallacious, misleading.
So while we are in this area of the divisive word of truth let us listen to this ‘welcoming and inclusive’ word from Jesus: Do you know why you cannot take in what I say? It is because you are unable to understand my language. The devil is your father, and you prefer to do what your father wants. He was a murderer from the start; he was never grounded in the truth; there is no truth in him at all.... But as for me, I speak the truth and for that very reason you do not believe me... A child of God listens to the words of God; if you refuse to listen, it is because you are not God’s children.
Fortunately, while there is life there is still time for a turnaround for even the most hardened sinner. Fortunately we are not really sheep, even though we often behave like them. Fortunately we are children of God who, like all children, have free will. Like the prodigal son we can come to our senses and go back to the Father.
And even more fortunately we are able to help in bringing the Gospel to those who have not heard God’s call, or have forgotten it. We are sent, as disciples of the Master to speak to our culture the word of the gospel – Come to me! Keep my commandments! Love the Lord your God! Love one another! Belong to me and you will live!