Now a days you rarely if ever see a hitch-hiker on the road. But back in the 80’s and 90’s you would see many people hitch-hiking around the country and even on the continent. Many people used to pick the hikers up and give them a lift to wherever they were going or some part of their journey. For some reason as I was reflecting on today’s readings for Good Shepard Sunday the idea of Hitch-hiking came into my mind. In a sense, the person who hitched a lift is saying: “you provide the car, buy the fuel, look after the maintenance, the insurance and tax and I’ll take a free lift from you. But if you have an accident, I’ll sue you for damages".
Now I’m sure back in the day, few hitch-hikers thought like that.
If you think about it, a lot of the people who are baptised Catholics are like the hitch-hikers. They say “you volunteer, you serve on this committee or that committee, you spend time in training and in school to serve the community, you give to the Church to get the service. We explain and prepare for the liturgies and keep the church clean and in good repair, you take the complaints and abuse and take the heat for your honest earned wages you give to the poor and church gate collections. You may attend Choir practices every week, or read at mass, serve at mass, help with the distribution of the Body of Christ at Holy Communion time. You may visit the sick, the housebound and the elderly - basically you are a Christian trying to live out your baptismal calling to the best of your ability.
Then you have the people who just come and go as the please. If it suits them they turn up on Sunday for mass, complain they are bored, they give out if mass is too long, they complain, criticise and give out about everything, but won’t lift a finger to help or they might just get out and pick up with another group, if they feel like it.
I know in this parish and every parish, about 20% of the people give 80% financially and otherwise. The hitch-hiking way may be what many choose, but to survive and flourish, as it did in those first centuries of the Church, they needed total commitment. You probably heard the famous story of the Chicken and the Pig, who were walking along together and they saw a sign on the Parish Hall which said. “Ham, Bacon, or Sausages and egg breakfast (Full Irish) to raise money to feed the poor.” The pig thought for a moment and said “I don’t know about that: for you, it’s only a small contribution but for me it is a total commitment.”
In the book of Revelation we read “the huge crowd that no one could count” who survived the great period of trial. These people were totally committed. We saw Paul and Barnabas in the first reading today getting “violent abuse” and finally a full flown persecution. But they didn’t care or give up. As we hear Jesus telling us in the Gospel, that if we are committed to him and “Follow him” then those he loves will never be lost and ‘no one will ever steal them from me’. The famous German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
God’s grace is like finding the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price, that you are willing to sell all that you own, in order to buy that field. One day a photographer who lived in France discovered the “perfect religion”: which perfectly integrated Philosophy and Theology. After many years he went on to be a statesman, diplomat and one time scholar. His name was Maurice de Talleyrand (1754 -1834) and he once said: “Why is it that everyone scoffs at my religion? It is far better than Christianity. What can I do to replace it throughout France and the World? Talleyrand said: “go out and spend your life surprising the people and preaching your religion and when you die, rise from the dead on the third day, then people will listen to you”.
It’s a great time now to ask. Where are we? Are we hitch-hikers or are we really willing to invite Christ fully into our lives and follow him and his teaching and be faithful all the way through. One thing is for sure, you are here today. How much do you put in the collection? How well do you practice your faith, forgive your enemies, help the poor and needy, stand up for what you know is just and right? How many of us really would give up everything to follow Christ?
The opening prayer today says: “Lead us to a share in the joys of heaven, so that the humble flock may reach, where the brave shepherd has gone before.” We may not be perfect, that's true. But by the grace and power of God we can change. Amen.