VIRTUE OF SIMPLICITY: A HOMILY ON THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR C
This virtue might come to some persons as a surprise, because we live in a world where simplicity is seen more as a vice than a virtue. That is why people can afford to say ‘Moenie simple wees nie’, ‘Dont be simple’, which is another way of saying ‘Dont be stupid’. Simplicity has been reduced to stupidity. But without this virtue, we cannot make heaven. Today, as we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday, we are invited to be like sheep and follow Jesus our loving shepherd.
THE SHEEP AND THE GOAT
First Reading- Acts 13:14,43-52
In those days: Paul and Barnabas passed on from Perga and came to Antioch of Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. And many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.” And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained believed. And the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region. But the Jews incited the devout woman of high standing and leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution of Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of the district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.: St. Paul in our reading goes first to the synagogue. He goes first to preach to the Jews. They respected and listened to him and even told more people who came to listen to him. These people can be described like sheep who obediently follow what they hear. But there is another group that can be described as the goats. They are the leaders of the Jewish community. They were filled with jealousy and turned against Paul and Barnabas. This kind of experience is very common to a priest. There are some people that when you teach them something, they easily accept and follow. But the most difficult people to teach are the educated, the intellectuals, those who know too much, those who think simplicity is a vice. They will make it difficult for the priest or the teacher. Of course, sometimes you need opposition to save you from your own excesses, but at the same time, it is important to have the virtue of simplicity and avoid complicating things. Fr. Wandile Dinginswayo CSsR, my former director always said that life is very simple. It is we who will insist on complicating it. When you work with simple people, things get done quicker. But with those who know too much, even when a simple issue is to be decided, a committee must be formed to look into the matter to decide if it should be done or not, and how it should be done. No matter how it is agreed by the committee, someone else will not be happy about it. We can choose the simplicity of the sheep or the stubbornness of the goat.
THE SHEEP IS LED BY THE LAMB
Second Reading- Revelations 7:9. 14b-17
I, John, Looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands. Then one of the elders said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulations; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lambs. Therefore, they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, not any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.: I find it very interesting that in this reading, everything is turned up-side-down. Even that, I am not sure if I wrote well. Sometimes when you are preaching, while the sheep are listening and learning, the goats are trying to find out where you make a mistake. This happens a lot to me, especially when I am trying to speak a new language. After the mass, while some people are telling you what they have learnt, others will be telling you about a particular word that you did not pronounce well. Of course, that is a good thing if that is done lovingly. I always wonder if they got any message.
In this reading, we see a multitude of people from every nation of the world, carrying palm branches, which symbolise that they are martyrs. We are told that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of christianity. It means that the more people that were killed for the faith, the more people are converted to the faith. This does not make sense, because normally, killing christians should discourage people from joining the group. Another thing is that they are dressed in white, which is the colour of the sheep’s wool. A black sheep is always the odd one and considered the bad one. We are told that their robes are white because they have been washed in the blood of the lamb. Normally, if you put a cloth in blood, it does not come out white. Rather it comes out looking very red and terribly so. The third odd thing is that the lamb is said to be their shepherd. This does not make sense. A lamb is the lest in the group. If it was another sheep, it would make a little sense. This is a shepherd that will not force you to follow. He is a shepherd that is not just a lamb, but a lamb that has been slain. How weak can a leader be. Nobody want such a leader, but that is the leader we are all called to follow, a saviour who has been crucified on the cross. This is why only simple people can be led by such a shepherd. Only those who can believe that their death will make more convert, those who believe that blood can wash a cloth to become white, those who believe that a peace of bread is the body of Christ, those who are so stupid to believe whatever the shepherd says.
Gospel- John 10:27-30
At that time: Jesus said, my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”: Why, of all animals, did Jesus choose to liken us to sheep. First we can think of the stupidity of the sheep. Of course, the goat reading this will be angry to be called stupid. We are more foolish than we think. If we dont know that, then our foolishness is even worse. Secondly, a sheep cannot be trained. You can train a dog and many other animals. But it is impossible to train a sheep. The sheep can never do without the shepherd. So, there is no independence for the sheep. Thirdly, in spite of all these, the sheep is precious to the shepherd. In those days, and even today among certain farmers, you are as rich as the amount of sheep you have. There was no banking then. So, the amount of sheep you have shows how wealthy you are. The sheep is precious for meat, for wool and for commerce. The sheep, without the shepherd can easily go astray, but because the sheep is very precious, the shepherd will do everything possible to get the sheep back. For the sheep to survive, he has to always listen to the shepherd. Someone said that the reason why the sheep are said to be going to heaven and the goat to hell is that on the last day, God will ask everybody to go to heaven. While the sheep will hear this command and just go in, the goats will break up into different committees, to discuss the implications of this command, to decide if they should obey it or not, and to decide how they will obey or disobey it, and before they could finish their meeting, the doors will be locked. From the sheep, let us learn the virtue of simplicity. I call it holy stupidity.