THE GOOD SHEPHERD
May 7th, 2017: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A. John 10:1-10.
AIM: To show Jesus as the good shepherd who gives us abundant life.
Certain things are indispensable for human life: air, water, food — and love. Without love children grow up stunted or warped. “Problem children,” we call them. They may have received too little love, the wrong kind of love, or so much of what their parents mistook for love that the children are spoiled. Every one of us needs love: not just in childhood, but our whole lives long. Deep in every heart is the desire to give and to receive; to know some beloved person intimately, but also to be known. As we grow in age, we make a discovery which causes most of us deep pain. It is this: no human relationship completely fulfills this deep human longing; not the most perfect marriage, not the most ideal friendship.
There is one person, however, who does love us totally, and who knows us better than we know ourselves. His name is Jesus Christ. “I know my sheep,” he says in today’s Alleluia verse (Jn. 10:14). Before this friend we have no secrets. He sees behind the masks we all wear. From his penetrating gaze there is no hiding. Does that seem threatening? In reality it is reassuring: to know that there is one person who knows the worst that is in us, and yet still loves us — yes, and will continue to love us, no matter how little we return his love.
“I know my sheep,” Jesus says. The words are so familiar that we don’t realize how unflattering they are. Sheep are foolish animals. They easily wander off and get into trouble. They are easily frightened. They require constant supervision. In one respect, however, sheep are smart. They recognize their own shepherd and can distinguish him from strangers who may harm them. Listen again to Jesus’ words in the gospel: “The sheep hear [their shepherd’s] voice, as [he] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. ... The sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” The words are an expansion of today’s Alleluia verse: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and mine know me.”
The knowledge that we, the flock of Jesus Christ, have of our shepherd is astonishing, when you stop to think about it. Jesus lived two thousand years ago. About most of his years on earth we know nothing at all. He was often a mystery, even to his closest friends. Yet was there ever a human being so well known by so many as Jesus Christ? Not everyone knows him, of course. Jesus indicated that when he said, “mine know me.” Who is he talking about? He is speaking of all those who listen to Jesus’ voice, and try, at least, to follow him. That is what counts: the effort, not the success.
Those who do try to follow Jesus find that he is always close to them, yet that he remains the totally Other. They know his goodness, his kindness, his patience, his strength, his courage. They recognize Jesus Christ as the embodiment of everything good and noble and worthwhile in human life: completely sinless, selfless, pure, holy. Those who try to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, experience him as a man set apart; yet drawing people to himself with a mysterious magnetism which centuries cannot diminish. (Why is it always quiet in the church when I speak about Jesus Christ? Why is it quiet right now?)
Jesus Christ is the one who understands us when no one else understands. He is the one who raises us up when we fall; whose help is effective and powerful when every other help fails. He is the Good Shepherd. He tells us in today’s gospel: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Does that mean somewhere else, tomorrow? pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die? No! Though the abundant life which Jesus came to give us will never be complete in this world, he wants it to begin here and now.
Perhaps someone is asking: “Can you prove that?” To that I must answer: “No, I cannot prove it. You must prove it.” You do so when you take Jesus at his word; when you listen for the shepherd’s voice, and heed his call. Once you do that, you will be able to say, in the words of the best known and most loved of all the 150 psalms: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall lack.”
Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are a reassurance and a promise. But they are more. They are also an invitation, and a challenge, addressed personally to you: “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. ... I came so that they might have life and have it to the full” [New American Bible].
That, friends, is the gospel. That is the good news. Jesus came so that we might have life, and have it to the full!