Father George Smiga
April 21, 2013
John 10: 27-30
It has been a bad week: bombings at the Boston Marathon with three dead and 170 injured; the people of Boston locked in their homes, watching gun fights on their streets and SWAT teams crawling through their backyards; an explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas killing 14 and injuring 200. You can’t go through a week like this without feeling a little less secure and a little more afraid. We wake up every morning imagining that things will go as usual. We move about with an air of invulnerability. But a week like this reminds us that anything can happen, and sometimes it does.
Of course, there will be a national debate over security at public events and oversight at chemical plants. If that debate is productive, it could result in better policies and greater security. Despite the importance of that discussion, it is not what we must discuss here this morning. Today we need to reflect on the spiritual aspect of what happened this week. We need to ask what these events mean in terms of our belief in God. This is not an idle question. Because in light of what has happened to us this week, it can seem that the words of Jesus are naive and perhaps misleading.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus presents himself to us as our shepherd. He tells us that we will never perish, that no one—no evil—will ever take us from his hand. How can we understand Jesus’ words in light of the events of this week? It may seem that Jesus is promising us more than he can deliver. How hollow is his promise that we shall never perish to those whose family members did perish. How empty is his promise that we will never be snatched out of his hand to those who are facing months and years of reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation. It seems that Jesus’ promise to us cannot be trusted.
That is why our aim this morning is to understand what Jesus’ words really mean, to ask ourselves what sense do they carry in the dangerous world in which we live. This question challenges us to examine our own faith and to consider what we think believing is about. All too often we do not reflect on our faith. We just carry it from day to day. We can carry notions with it that are elementary and perhaps even childish. We can say, “If I am a good person and do what is right, if I say my prayers, no bad thing is going to happen to me.” I wish that were true. But such a belief is too simplistic.
Being a good person does not mean that we will never have to face evil. Being a person of faith does not exempt us from suffering. Coming to church and saying our prayers does not make us more secure at public events or next to fertilizer plants. Faith does not assure us that we are exempt from cancer, or earthquakes, or terrorist attacks.
To put this most bluntly, faith is not primarily about security. It is about a relationship. People who believe are not safer than those who do not believe. But they can be stronger, stronger as they face the evils that come into their lives. They can be stronger because they believe in a God who is with them, a God who has promised them eternal life and a courage to deal with the difficulties of life.
This is why the image that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel is so important. Jesus said that he holds us in his hand and that no one—no evil—will take us from him. That promise is a promise of his presence, a promise that we will be with him. From his presence we will draw guidance, strength, and hope.
This is what faith is: not a guarantee of protection, but a guarantee of relationship. Such a faith promises that we can live our lives in relationship to the Creator of the universe, to the Savior of the world, and that we can draw strength from God’s love.
Jesus holds us in the palm of his hand. He does not promise that we will avoid suffering and evil. But he does promise that he will never let us go.