This reflection is based on the short Gospel passage John 10:27-30 for the 4th Sunday of Easter.
Never mind if I had just been recently traumatized by the finale of “The Walking Dead,” but I allowed a Jesuit friend to introduce me to yet another TV series called “The Family.” To my horror (but also secret delight!), the new TV series, which is still airing on ABC, is turning out to be just as disturbing and increasingly creepy.
It’s about a young boy named Adam, who goes missing and is presumed have been murdered until he suddenly reappears ten years later. He has managed to escape from his captor and is reunited with his family. This happy turn of events notwithstanding, questions gradually appear one after the other. As new and unexpected pieces of information begin to surface, his family reluctantly begins to wonder if he really is the boy that he claims to be. I have to confess that even if some of the twists seem unbelievable, I’ve been hooked, and I’ve been coming back for more!
Despite what critics consider its cheap shots, the show has touched me in a deep way. I was struck by the pain and the trauma experienced by the boy’s family. Snatched by a stranger when his mother was campaigning for office, the boy disappeared without a trace, leaving his different family members racked not only with a lingering and profound sense of loss, but also with guilt and confusion. Subsequently, Adam’s mother poured herself into her political career, eventually getting herself elected town mayor. His father authored a bestselling book on grief and loss and went on tours to give talks on the subject (not to mention getting into an affair with the investigating officer). Adam’s brother turned into an alcoholic, and his sister coped by shutting down her emotions.
And just when they thought they had learned to accept their loss, this boy showed up again, ten years older, acting like a stranger and giving them more and more reasons to suspect that he actually is. The irony though is that even if they are unsure of this boy’s identity, everyone–perhaps with the exception of the brother–seems afraid to lose their Adam again and are willing to do anything to keep him, if only to keep their lives normal again–at least based on the latest episode, as of this writing!
The show has captured how traumatic it is to lose someone–especially if that person is snatched away from you as suddenly and as mysteriously as Adam was.
We know the feeling! All of us have at some point in our lives lost people dear to us–sometimes to death, but often to life. Before our very eyes, a person is snatched away from us, sometimes for the most incomprehensible of reasons, and he or she is suddenly and permanently absent in our lives. We are no strangers to the pain and the trauma of losing others.
But some us have also experienced losing ourselves. Something happens–or does not, and one day we wake up and feel that we are no longer ourselves. Something in us has died or disappeared, snatched away from us in the night. Suddenly we don’t really know who we are, unsure of our very own identity. It almost feels like our former self has been lost and is irretrievable forever.
I talk about losing others and losing ourselves because in today’s very short, Gospel reading of only three verses, our Lord Jesus makes a bold promise. He will make us unsnatchable: As long as he is around, no one can snatch us away from him or take us away from his Father’s hands. He promises us his protection and gives us this guarantee.
It’s a significant promise, one for which we can only be grateful. We know all too well the many temptations in this world of ours. It is so easy to lose our way and to lose our souls in a world where the wicked seem to win and prosper much more often than those who “play nice” and finish last. It is consoling to hear the Lord promise us that no matter happens in our lives, he will make sure that we are not snatched away from him.
But this promise can be fulfilled if and only if we are sheep to his Shepherd: If we listen to his voice and follow him, and if we nurture a relationship with him that permits him to know us the way a shepherd knows every single one of his sheep. If we don’t want to be snatched away from Jesus and his Father, we must make sure to take care of not only of our prayer lives, but also our moral lives. If the Lord is truly a significant person in our lives, we should be able to spend time talking with him as we do with our dearest friends, and he should make a difference in the decisions we make and the actions we take.
All this reminds me of the Stephen Sondheim song “Not While I’m Around, ” a tender and haunting ballad from the musical “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” The homeless boy, Tobias, pledges to protect his foster mother, Mrs. Lovett, singing to her words more endearing than reassuring because he is, after all, only a child:
“Nothing’s gonna harm you
Not while I’m around…
Demons are prowling everywhere nowadays
I’ll send them howling I don’t care, I’ve got ways.”
If we listen with an open heart, the words may as well be coming from the Lord. Let his song lead you to prayer.