Superstition is a funny thing. All kinds of humans practice it. Baseball players are notorious for it. I know grandmothers who throw salt over their shoulder if they spill during baking. Some people wear certain colors when they have important meetings.
Some superstitions just make good common sense. Opening an umbrella indoors, especially in a small space, could be dangerous. Walking under a ladder is asking for something to fall on one’s head. While other superstitions have more spiritual origins. It’s said knocking on wood for good luck comes from the pagan belief that wood spirits will be awakened and come to your aid (or scare them off, depends I guess).
What all superstitions do is seek to give us control. Some superstitions even seek to give us control over the uncontrollable.
Humans want to be in control. We desire to have power and dominion over our existence. More and more it seems, especially for us in wealthy countries, people believe they have control over absolutely every aspect of their lives. Some folks learn through various experiences just how limited we are in controlling our lives. Others seek to hold onto control no matter what. We all probably know someone who considers themselves a control freak.
In the gospel this Sunday Jesus proclaims that he is the Good Shepherd. We’ve heard this gospel and the main sentiment countless times. The image of Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders is one most Christians are familiar with. But there is curious message at the end.
This is why the Father loves me,
because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.
I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.
This command I have received from my Father.
Jesus proclaims that he has the power to lay down his life and to take it up again. What does this mean? Jesus is claiming to have power over life and death. Jesus is claiming control over the very forces of nature. Jesus is claiming to be God.
Only God has power over life and death. Only God knows the length of our days. Jesus is explaining that he has been given a command from the Father to die and to rise.
While we wish we had control and do a number of silly behaviors to try and gain control, we know that death is one thing we don’t have control over. No matter how advanced medicine gets, not matter how healthy we live, the death rate continues to be 100% ultimately.
First this gospel and the fact that Jesus has power over life and death (and we do not) is a healthy and good reminder that Jesus is God and we are not. It is good for us to remember this. As we get more and more sophisticated and seem to have more and more control over what we eat, who we talk to, what we do, we need to be reminded we are not in actually in control and that is good.
Second, this gospel is a reminder that we will die. Sorry if that is bummer of a thought. The good news is if we know Christ and growing in an intimate, loving relationship with him and seek spiritual communion with God through the Sacraments of the Church, this death won’t be the end. We have a God who conquered death through the cross. Jesus is in control.
Live It: There is a great tradition in the Church that helps us to remember our death which helps us live for God now. It’s called Momento Mori. Check out this site all about Memento Mori written by a Catholic sister who used to be an atheist. Super Awesome.