sabato 21 aprile 2018

Lapis et pastor

The Bible is not a philosophy handbook nor a theological treatise and neither is a catechism. As a rule, we do not find in it precise and abstract definitions, but stories, poems and parables. Since it deals with the mystery of God, in order to speak of him, it generally resorts to images that depict some of his aspects, without claiming to exhaust his mystery, which is infinite. Even the New Testament often uses images to speak of Jesus, although he was a man, but—let us not forget it—a man bearer of a mystery. Jesus himself employed parables to illustrate the mystery of the kingdom of God, and made recourse to metaphors to speak of himself. We find two of these images in today’s liturgy. 

In the first reading, Peter, in his speech before the Sanhedrin, after explaining to them that the cripple had been healed in the name of Jesus Christ, adds, “He is ‘the stone … which has become the cornerstone.’” This figure has not been invented by Peter; it is taken from Psalm 118, which we have recited after the first reading. It was Jesus to apply it to himself, at the end of the parable of the tenants, “Have you not read this scripture passage: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes’” (Mk 12:10-11). We find it again in the first letter of Peter, where the Apostle applies the same image even to Christians, who are “living stones” of the Church, of which Christ is the “cornerstone” (1Pt 2:1-10). 

In the gospel, Jesus describes himself as the “good shepherd.” This figure implies that the disciples and all men are the sheep belonging to him and for which he lays down his life. Even in this case, the metaphor of the shepherd is not new; it had already been used in the Old Testament in reference to God. Now Jesus takes it up again to describe his unique relationship with his disciples and with all human beings. He is the good shepherd not only because he his good and the other shepherds are bad, but because he is the only true, authentic shepherd; others are just copies, often rough copies, of him. In some cases, they are not true shepherds, but only hirelings, who pasture the flock for pay. For them being shepherds is just a business; they do not care about the sheep; they are concerned only for their personal interest. The true shepherd, instead, is ready even to die for his sheep, because they belong to him. 

Well, these two images are very different from each other: in the first case, stone is an inanimate reality, hard, unchangeable, but important to build a house, not only to make its walls, but also, and above all, its foundations. On the other side, shepherd is a human being, who loves his sheep, leads them to pasture and defends them from wolves, ready even to die for them. Though so different, both figures refer to the same person, Jesus Christ. It means that one of them is not enough to depict him exhaustively: there is need of both of them. 

And yet, nowadays there is a tendency in the Church to stress only one of the two, at the expense of the other one. In these last years all insist on the pastoral commitment of the Church: the Second Vatican Council was a “pastoral Council;” Pope Francis, in the programmatic document of his pontificate, the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, invited us to a “pastoral conversion.” That is all right. But, at the same time, today many neglect the importance of remaining faithful to the doctrine and tradition of the Church, which are unchangeable, and for this reason can be compared with stone. Jesus is, at the same time, the cornerstone and the good shepherd. If we want to be his disciples, we have to imitate him as the good shepherd, but remaining founded on him, the cornerstone.