Notice who we hear a lot from this Sunday: Saint Peter.
Peter, who failed. Peter, who the Lord knew would fail.
Peter, who the Lord clearly was counting on,
because he didn’t let him go, but instead reeled him back in.
Remember? Jesus asked three times, “Do you love me?”
And then said, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.”
So Peter had reason to reflect deeply
on what it means to be a shepherd.
Especially on the fact that Jesus chose him twice.
The Gospels tell us a lot about the Apostles’ weaknesses.
But realize they were telling on themselves.
And they did it because after Jesus rose from the dead,
and poured out the Holy Spirit, they were changed so greatly.
So it was important for everyone to know
how different they had once been.
We all know a song like that:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved…a wretch!—like me.
I once was lost, but now…am found; was blind…but now I see.
That’s every Christian’s story.
Each in our own way,
we all come to realize we totally need Jesus Christ!
If that’s true for every Christian,
It’s even more true for our human shepherds.
Sometimes we have a hard time getting the right balance here.
There’s a funny cartoon making the rounds.
First Pope Francis calls to order a pizza, and says, “hold the anchovies.”
The next scene, the pizza guy says to his coworker,
“huh, so the pope doesn’t like anchovies.”
Every time the story passes along, it changes,
till we see a news reporter announcing,
Today in Rome the pope “announced eating seafood is a sin!”
That joke’s on us, not him.
But then we go off-balance the other way,
and people dismiss the pope entirely because he’s human.
But remember, it the Lord’s own plan
to put human shepherds in charge.
It was Jesus who left the Apostles
to be the ones who would keep his promises!
So as Catholics we believe
that when the pope and the bishops act together,
they act with the authority of Christ.
And when they teach on matters of faith and morals,
in a formal way, they have the protection from God
of not teaching error. This is what “infallibility” means.
That’s part of him keeping the promise of being a good shepherd.
But did you notice in this section of the Gospel,
Jesus doesn’t call himself “the shepherd.”
He calls himself the gate.
And he says, the thief tries to sneak in,
While the one who enters by the gate? That’s the shepherd.
Now, we might wonder,
why does our Lord think he needs to say all this?
Because he knows there are a lot of false shepherds—
and there is a danger that people will listen to them,
rather than to the shepherds who are faithful to the Lord.
The reason people try to get in over the wall
is because they don’t want to deal with the Lord, who is the gate.
There are things our Faith teaches that people don’t like.
But the Lord himself is the source of them.
He took the tough line on marriage.
He clearly said it was man and woman.
Throughout Scripture he made it clear that sexual intimacy waits for marriage;
and that marriage always welcomes the gift of children.
It is the Lord who says, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you,
while politicians and talk radio people say, let’s torture them.
And to be clear, loving our enemies
doesn’t mean we can’t defend ourselves.
But it means that we never have permission
to treat even our enemies as less than human. Never.
Right now, Pope Francis is very popular; which is great.
He’s making some good moves.
But sooner or later, he’ll say and do things folks won’t like.
He’ll have to, because he’s a faithful shepherd.
There’s a good reason we often call the Church our mother,
because their roles are similar.
What our mothers often do, the Church does:
telling us the truth we need to hear,
not necessarily that we want to.
Father Ted Ross, who taught for many years at our seminary,
and who taught me, used to say this.
We don’t need the Church to tell us when we’re right.
We need the Church to tell us when we’re wrong.