Subject: There is a bit of a runaway in each of us

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Touching the Sunrise
Last week two news items caught my attention. One recounted an event that took place in Florida. A woman believes that a deputy intentionally drove his car around hers and into the path of a vehicle going the wrong way to prevent the car from hitting her. After she was not able to stop the oncoming car by flashing her lights, she recounted in tears, she saw a police car speed up and place himself between her and the oncoming vehicle. She knows that without his sacrifice she would not be alive. The other news report recounted an event that took place in Maryland. Officer Jacai Colson arrived for work at his police station in the middle of a shootout. He demonstrated extreme heroism by diverting the attention of the shooter to himself which allowed officers to take a position where they could intervene and stop the threat. Neither officer survived. Full disclosure: my brother is a police officer so my Facebook stream is dotted with posts about police officers who have given their life in the line of duty (there is almost one officer slain every day or so).

The reason I’m writing of these two stories on Palm Sunday—as all the beauty and sacredness of Holy Week stretch out before us—is that they are very real examples of what it means to give ones life as Christ gave his for us. The mysteries of our salvation can be reduced to sentiment or history or dogma. However, if they are to change me from head to toe, inside and out, these mysteries must seep into my fears and desires and decisions and needs until all of these have taken on the LOVE that is far bigger than they. This LOVE was in Jesus’ very DNA as the son of God. For me, I realize that I get a little afraid of having to give too much, trust too much, endure too much…. Hence today’s letter.

Thanks for joining me on the journey.
Sr. Kathryn James, FSP

Dear Friend,

I’ve been learning about shepherds lately, as I am reading a book written by Kenneth Bailey, a theologian who spent forty years living and teaching in the Middle East. In his books he helps us see Jesus through the experience of a Middle Eastern peasant. Our Western “holy card” images of the Good Shepherd depict a gentle Jesus and a small lamb in his arms as a herd of sheep dutifully trails behind him. The image of the Good Shepherd found in the catacombs and in the Middle East is very different. The Good Shepherd is a man familiar with the outdoors and the exhausting labor of protecting his sheep. This is what you would more typically see in the Middle East even today.

If you read the parable of the lost sheep carefully, Jesus says to the Pharisees, which one of you having a hundred sheep. He doesn’t say: now there was once a shepherd who had a hundred sheep…. He says: think now, if you had a hundred sheep and one was lost….

Shepherding was not a sought-after position in the years Jesus lived. A shepherd was at the bottom of the totem pole and lived most of his life outside, wandering throughout the countryside in great privation. The Pharisees would probably have expected Jesus to say that if one of them—educated and religious leaders that they were—lost a sheep they should send a shepherd to go find it. Instead Jesus said, “You had a hundred sheep, you lost one, wouldn’t you go in search of it yourself, leaving the other ninety-nine with another shepherd you had hired to help you. Isn’t that what you would do for a sheep in your herd?” Jesus was telling the Pharisees: you have lost the sheep. I am coming to find them and bring them home. I’m not delegating it to anyone else. I am going myself to find them. And you are trying to kill me for doing your work.

I have found this a powerful point of meditation in these past days. The sheep didn’t try to return. The sheep didn’t say he was sorry and repent. Jesus simply went and found the lost (not “bad”) sheep. (I feel lately like Jesus’ runaway, and it is such a relief to know that he is ever chasing me down.)

When the lost sheep is found, he or she is lifted up and carried back with great joy. In the Middle East there are several statues of the Good Shepherd in exactly this pose. Shepherds always carried sheep with their stomach around the back of their neck and all four hooves in front of their face. This helped the shepherd to control the sheep as well as leaving one arm free to help him climb over the rough terrain back to where they had left the rest of the sheep. A shepherd could walk for one or two days away from the rest of the fold before they found the wayward sheep, so they could have quite a distance to walk back with the heavy load around their neck. We are told in the parables that finding the lost sheep was a cause of great joy and celebration. Statues of the Good Shepherd in the Middle East depict the shepherd carrying a sheep that is larger than him and there is always a smile on the shepherd’s face. The price paid is emphasized by the extraordinary size of the sheep, the smile shows us that he rejoices in the burden of restoration.

It is an overwhelming experience to have someone give their life for you, as these people can attest who today live because an officer purposely “took the hit” for them. And it is even more overwhelming that God’s Son would come to earth himself, would become a man, so that he could do for us what we had been unable to do for thousands of years of history.

St Andrew of Crete’s homily for Palm Sunday puts it this way: “In his humility Christ entered the dark regions of our fallen world and he is glad that he became so humble for our sake, glad that he came and lived among us and shared in our nature in order to raise us up again to himself. And even though we are told that he has now ascended above the highest heavens - the proof, surely, of his power and godhead - his love for man will never rest until he has raised our earthbound nature from glory to glory, and made it one with his own in heaven.”

This Holy Week may we each be astounded by how greatly we are loved, runaways that we are. What great joy and glory it gives Jesus to find us and bring us home!

The last word goes to St. Andrew of Crete: “Now that the crimson stains of our sins have been washed away in the saving waters of baptism and we have become white as pure wool, let us present the conqueror of death, not with mere branches of palms but with the real rewards of his victory. Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the children’s holy song: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the king of Israel."

About Touching the Sunrise

We most deeply fear growing old and growing brittle, stuck, sad. Yet we set ourselves up for this by the way we think TODAY, the way we love TODAY, the way we live TODAY.

These reflections, prayers, and tools are what you can do TODAY to make for yourself a better TOMORROW filled with love. 

Touching the Sunrise is about growing in the flexibility to live a freer and more fluid life. 

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HeartWork provides tools, experiences of prayer, and space to explore what's happening in your everyday life in a Catholic framework faithful to the spiritual tradition of the Church. Together we walk on a grace-filled path that is free, fulfilling and fruitful. Learn more.
The SUNRISE is there as long as you want it. You can touch it again and again and experience the magnificence of the repeated dawn of a new day.
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