Psychologists will forever be debating whether nature or nurture has a greater effect on the psychological development of the human person. Some argue that we are born with a certain genetic constitution and that there is little to change it, while others will argue that the human psyche is more elastic and can be affected greatly by how much – or how little – that psyche is nurtured by others. Our own Christian experience of conversion and change clearly demonstrates that the fundamental Christian attitude toward the human psyche is to nurture – that, despite our fallen human nature, we can achieve great virtue and accomplishments through God’s nurturing grace. The readings today confirm this nurturing position.
The Gospel text relates the famous passage of the Good Shepherd. The shepherd image is rich in the tradition of Israel: Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds before being called by God to lead his people. Of course, God himself is the shepherd of our souls, as Psalm 23 so elegantly reminds us. However, in the time of Jesus the image of a shepherd was different. Shepherds were regarded as dirty, dishonest people and they were essentially outcasts in society. In using the image of the shepherd to describe his care for us, Jesus challenges the negative stereotype of his day and returns to the rich shepherd tradition of Israel. Jesus, like God, will never abandon his flock or take advantage of them. Through his loving care, we sheep will come to safety in the midst of a threatening world.
Just as Jesus received the power and authority of the Father in performing the works he does, so Jesus passes that power and authority to his newfound church. The first reading provides us with a vivid example of the nurturing care of the apostles in the days after Pentecost. Peter heals a cripple in the name of Jesus, and he announces this saving deed to the Jewish authorities. All of us are spiritual cripples in need of healing. Through the ministry of the Church we receive this healing through sacramental actions and pastoral care. Although it is hard for us to admit that we are cripples, only by doing so can we be healed by the Lord Jesus through the ministry of the Church, and it is only in embracing this ministry of nurturing care for the other that we become full disciples of Jesus the Lord.
In the letters of John we have the final written texts of the New Testament, the final revelation of God on earth. We also have the most intimate image of nurturing in terms of God’s dealings with humans. John reminds us of how great a privilege it is for us that God lets us be his children. There is never a moment in our lives when we will outgrow childhood and be adult Christians. We are always God’s children, always in need of his nurturing care that will rescue us when we are in danger, heal us when we are wounded, protect us when we are threatened, and feed us when we are hungry.
Psychologists all agree that the human psyche is most elastic when we are children – that our ability to change and grow is most ripe during childhood. It is also generally agreed that we are most vulnerable as children. These two facts should lead us to two conclusions: first, that in our spiritual life we must always see ourselves as children of God, ready to be changed and ready to grow under God’s nurturing care; second, that as ministers of the Church we have a grave responsibility to treat everyone as children of God, to protect, nurture, heal, and feed the people of God in every place and age. We fail in ministry most especially when we allow others to be harmed when we could have protected, when we allow others to go hungry when we could have fed them, when we fail to act when we could have rescued those in harm.
As we reflect on our own spiritual lives and our responsibilities as ministers in the Church, we pray together for the nurturing help of God to lead us to growth and to inspire us to be nurturing ministers of the Lord Jesus. “Let us pray to God our helper in time of distress. God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, though your people walk in the valley of darkness, no evil should they fear; for they follow in faith the call of the shepherd whom you have sent for their hope and strength. Attune our minds to the sound of his voice, lead our steps in the path he has shown, that we may know the strength of his outstretched arm and enjoy the light of your presence forever. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.”
Jude Huntz is Director of the Human Rights Office and chancery chief of staff for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
Daily Scripture Readings
For complete daily Scripture texts, click here.
Monday, April 30
Psalms 42:2-3; 43:3, 4
Tuesday, May 1
Psalms 87:1b-3, 4-5, 6-7
Wednesday, May 2
Acts 12:24 – 13:5a
Psalms 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8
Thursday, May 3
1 Corinthians 15:1-8
Psalms 19:2-3, 4-5
Friday, May 4
Psalms 2:6-7, 8-9, 10-11ab
Saturday, May 5
Psalms 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Sunday, May 6
Psalms 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
1 John 3:18-24
The full text of the Scripture readings for this week and next week can be found here: http://www.usccb.org/
Click on the “Readings” tab at the top of the page.