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On Faith: The good shepherd of comfort and discomfort

May 04, 2012|By Msgr. Wilbur Davis

The New Testament evangelists — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — each have a somewhat different lens through which they see Jesus and present him to us. Their kaleidoscope of images have, throughout the centuries, fed the imagination of artists, musicians, and poets who, in turn, have given form and expression to so much of the world's cultures and traditions.

Unwittingly, in a confusion of roles, many of us Christians subordinate Jesus to the role of being our aide, uncritically supporting and promoting our cause, whatever that be.

He is the good guy who causes no embarrassment at our cocktail parties, a regular weekend surfer such as ourselves, one who approvingly signs off on the business transactions of church-going Christians. He would vote for our political party. He makes us feel good. And he supplies the touchdown pass I pray for.

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The difficulty with such impoverished descriptions is that they do not line up with God as revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is indeed shepherd, healer, comforter and more.

But the shepherd also gives every pious person reason to squirm. Religious authorities and state authorities colluded to kill Jesus because the integrity of his life exposed their mendacity and callousness in not hearing the cry of the poor.

For them, the status quo was just fine. All systems should be maintained such as to privilege the privileged. Contrary persons should be ridiculed, if not removed.

Religious leaders accused Jesus of welcoming public sinners, despised tax collectors, pagans and other reprobates, even eating with them. He called all to add mercy upon mercy, to forgive not just seven times but 70 times seven times. In an alpha-male society he enjoyed tender friendships with women, and to those who were outcasts he brought protection, respect, wisdom and healing.

He did more than give advice to the sick and hungry; he brought them healing, food and dignity, insisting that we should do the same.

A man of peace, he did not like weapons and directed Peter, who had come to his defense, to put down the sword. Courageous and principled, he did not cower when arrested but instead rebuked Pilate, perhaps being the only one ever to do so: "You would have no power over me whatever if it were not given you from above."

To this day, the Good Shepherd kicks up the dust of our carefully fenced and manicured pastures.

Jesus fascinates both believer and non-believer. We who believe in him do well when we leave the door of our imagination open wide so as to welcome him in his inexhaustible richness, thus finding companionship and comfort — and liberating discomfort.

MSGR. WILBUR DAVIS is in-residence at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church, Newport Beach.

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