Columnists Mark my words

Are you ready to follow the Leader?

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

What image of Jesus touches your heart?

One of the most comforting for me is Jesus the good shepherd that we hear about each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

It’s now almost a year to the day when I was walking around the Kondo gift shop in Bethlehem in the West Bank. I smile at the memory for a few reasons. The first is that several people in our pilgrimage group, mishearing the name of the shop, thought we were going to a “candle” store and wondered how in the world we could spend 90 minutes there!

The second reason for my smile was the store’s historical significance. Shibley Kondo, the proprietor, is the grandson of the antiquities owner who originally received the jars containing the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Qumran beginning in 1946. In fact, the shop has one of the original four jars in a glass case there. Even more incredible is that a worker at the store is the grandson of the shepherd who discovered those scrolls.

The third reason for my smile is that all the souvenirs in the place were crafted by a consortium of Palestinian Christians who share in the profits of the store. The Kondo family also supports numerous charities that assist the local population, including an orphanage for special-needs children.

I bought a lot of gifts there but kept one that now has a treasured place in my home. It’s a simple statue, carved from olive wood, of Jesus as the good shepherd. It stands about eight inches high. It appealed to me because the face of Jesus has a darker hue, reminiscent of the skin tones of many Palestinians I met. Jesus is seated on a wall, the traditional posture of a teacher. His right hand tenderly rests on a sheep at his feet while his left hand embraces a small child in his lap. The tenderness expressed by this image of Jesus absolutely warms my heart.

It reminds me, especially on difficult days, of this story told by theologian and author E. Stanley Jones:

A missionary got lost in the African jungle where there was nothing around him but bush and a few cleared spaces. Eventually, he found a hut and asked the man within if he could lead him out.

When the native agreed, the missionary said, “All right. Show me the way.”

The native said, “Walk.”

And so, they walked and hacked their way through unmarked jungle for more than an hour. The missionary grew worried and asked, “Are you quite sure this is the way? Where is the path?”

The native said, “Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path.” (Story adapted from “Follow Me” in “Illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewett.)

Isn’t that who the Good Shepherd is for us? Jesus knows us and calls us by name. He leads us confidently where we need to be and, when we stray, he’s gently there to retrieve us “lost sheep” and carry us back home around his shoulders.

Over the past few Sundays of the Easter season, Jesus has reminded us that we’re called not only to follow but to imitate him in our lives.

May we make this prayer of B.J. Hoff our own:

“To the searching heart, send me with your word/ To the aching heart, send me with your peace/ To the broken heart, send me with your love/ However small or wide my world, Lord, let me warm it with the promise that you care.” (Found in Anthony Castle’s “More Quips, Quotes & Anecdotes for Preachers and Teachers.)

What more can we say but “Amen!”

About the author

Fr. Mark Goldasich

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