THIS IS YOUR LIFE -- IN ABUNDANCE...
I wonder how many of the younger folks out here know of the television program This is your life. The only reason I remember it is from watching re-run episode of it when I would be home sick from school or on a snow day since it was a show from way before my time... It started on radio in the 1940's and then was a hit television program for almost a decade in the 1950's. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the show was something like a documentary/reality TV/ game show. A person would be brought to the TV studios under some false pretense, surprised to learn that they would be the focus of an hour-long retrospective on their lives with people from their past – many of whom they hadn’t seen or heard from in years – surprising them. That’s why I’m not sure if the program could work nowadays. With facebook, twitter people are at least more familiar and can keep tabs on one another to a much greater extent than back then. Part of the drama of the program was to see the honoree hearing a voice of a friend or someone influential in their lives who they hadn’t seen or heard from in decades; you watched the expressions, the excitement, the flood of memories that would overwhelm the guests of honor as they recognized those voices.
It was interesting to learn how the show started. The creator and host of This is your Life, Ralph Edwards was working on another program for NBC radio called Truth or Consequences. At the time, he was approached by some people from the United States Army and asked if he could “do something” for soldiers who were paraplegic in a hospital and were dealing with major depression as a result of their injuries. Edwards went and visited them and found one soldier who was particularly despondent. So he came up with the idea of presenting the man’s life on air. Rather than focusing solely on where he was at that point, he wanted to integrate happier times from his past. So he brought in his former track coach, military officials he knew, and so on. Two years later to the day that this episode aired, the soldier, now rehabilitated, wheeled into Edward’s studio by his new bride for one of the most emotional scenes in a career that had many high emotions. As the soldier was wheeled in, Edwards said "I told him, 'Here's your year's rent, and here's your key. Come and get it.' And the young soldier who just two years earlier was imprisoned by the wreckage he viewed his life as, got up and walked to the mike. Edwards continued “It was the greatest thrill I ever had. The crowd stood up and cheered..” Edwards recognized that the key to helping the soldier to move out of his depression and begin his rehab and start a new life was to bring back memories, through the voices of those who knew him of a happier past, to help the young man see that there was still hope for a happier future.
Throughout the Easter season, as we’ve heard the Gospel narratives, you might have noticed that even though Jesus’ friends keep hearing news of the empty tomb, angelic visitors announcing that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead - but the news itself isn’t enough to relieve the fear, the terror, the sadness that the first followers were experiencing from Good Friday. The realization that among those closest to Jesus, they had rejected, betrayed and abandoned him – the images from Good Friday of His torturous, brutal, gruesome death had left them devastated. Last week we heard that as the two disciples were heading out of town to Emmaus even though they had heard the “good news”... Mary Magdalene upon seeing the empty tomb fears that there’s been another insult to Jesus, someone stealing His body – and when she first sees Him, she thinks he’s a gardener and asks him did he steal the body and where did he put it...
What is it that is able to transform the “good news” of Jesus’ victory over death from something they’ve heard to something they experience? Hearing the voice of Jesus... In hearing that voice - they were reminded of all that Jesus had taught them.... all that he spoke of how God had never and would never abandon his people... and how that had been definitively, eternally demonstrated in His being risen from the dead, never to die again. And with that, their hope for a happier future would resurrect as well.
All of this leads us to today’s Gospel. Jesus refers to himself as “the Good Shepherd,” which is a popular, known image, but needs a bit of an explanation to those of us who don’t have a lot of experience with sheep. Sheep have a connection with the shepherd. The Shepherd knows every one of his sheep- the one with the strange looking ear, that one with the cute face - the other one who’s bigger and fuller than the rest- He knows all of them - he knows when one out of 100 of them are missing. At night, during Jesus' time, there would be three or four shepherds who’d put all of their sheep together in a pen while one of the shepherds would watch all of them, protecting them from thieves, or wild animals; and in the morning, the shepherds would call, and the flocks would split and follow their respective shepherd. They knew which voice to follow in order to find direction in life. They recognized the voice of their shepherd.
As our Good Shepherd, Jesus tells us in this Gospel that if we but listen to His voice and follow Him, we will have life in abundance. That we will be saved. That death will have no power over us. But That “good news” doesn’t seem to be enough to wipe out the fears, the doubts, the anxiety that so many of us endure. We know that there are many of our families and friends who have experienced painful, difficult things. We ourselves may be weighed down by legitimate anxieties – are experiencing sickness, death in our own lives. And those experiences can makes us feel abandoned... lost... hopeless.
We may hear the good news of the resurrection - and be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus on the way out of town, unable to truly believe it; or like Mary Magdalene, unable to recognize Jesus Christ standing right in front of her; or like that soldier who’s a paraplegic, thinking that his future was a limited one of despair and pain.
Which is why we come today and need to hear the voice of the shepherd. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we hear him reminding us of God’s promises, how He has fulfilled those promises and has never, and will never abandon His People. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we hear Him inviting us to follow Him, even as we walk through our own dark nights with things that terrorize us. Listening to the voice of the Shepherd, we too can have our hopes for a happier future restored. If we are able to listen and hear that voice, follow that voice, we’re reminded that despite the unpleasant chapters we have to endure, the ending to our own episodes of this is your life has a promise of eternal, abundant conclusion.
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern