During the Palestinian uprising of 1980s, a small village near Bethlehem refused to pay its taxes to Israel claiming that by paying they would be financing the occupation of their own land and country. The army retaliated by confiscating all the animals from the villagers and placing them in a large barbed-wire pen. Few days later the officer in charge was approached by a woman who begged him to release her animals explaining that she is a single mother and the animals were the only source of livelihood for her and her children. The officer humorously inquired how she was intending to find her animals among hundreds in the pen. And because the woman appeared absolutely certain that she would in fact be able to identify her sheep among the rest, the officer agreed and opened the gate. The woman’s son started playing a simple tune over and over again on a reed flute and soon sheep heads started popping up across the pen. The boy continued to play, walking back home with his mother, followed by their flock of twenty-five sheep.
Today’s Scripture reading is from the gospel of St. John, chapter ten, where we find Christ revealing, depicting himself to us as the good shepherd who not only knows his sheep but knows them by name; his sheep recognize his voice and follow only him.
In an ordinary relationship, we pick and choose when, to whom and how much of our life, our past, our true feelings we reveal. We decide which personality traits we project boldly and which we conceal carefully. Revealing too much or at a wrong time, revealing to a wrong person or in a wrong way can make us feel exposed and frightened that they will no longer be able to accept us, that they will not be able to understand, that they might mistreat and abuse our trust.
When it comes to our relationship with Christ – the Good Shepherd of our lives – there is nothing we can reveal to him that he does not already know. There is no dark corner of our minds that is unknown to Him. There is no chapter of our lives, no event, no heartbreak and no joy that Christ does not know about. He knows us on a molecular level of our physical bodies and existence, on a deepest level of our psyche.
There are major differences in how Christ knows us versus how others, including our closest friends and loved ones know us. For the Good Shepherd of our souls that knowledge is not merely information, but also an experience. Our sorrows and losses, our fears and joy are not only known by God, but also experienced. As our loving parent, compassionate creator and the source of our lives, He feels and experiences our pain and fears just as we do. The Church and the faithful are the body of Christ and therefore, all our troubles and joys radiate through that body and reach to Christ. Also, God knows us and everything about us not simply because He has that ability as the omnipotent creator of the heavens and earth, but out of pure and unconditional love.
Today Scripture reading from the gospel of St. John beats and overflows with that soft, healing and restoring divine love. The good shepherd is not someone who is hired to look after the flock, instead the sheep belong to him, He knows each by name and is bound to them by a relationship and trust. He is not just any shepherd, but “The Good Shepherd” in the same way as he is “The light of the world”, “The Door”, “The True Vine” and “The Bread of Life”. The sheep recognize his voice and will only follow him. The Good shepherd is ready to give his own life to protect his sheep.
Let us take a hard and deep look into today’s beautiful Scripture reading, let us reflect and pray on the immense divine love found in the story, let us open the gates of our souls so the Good Shepherd can enter and show us the way to the green pastures of peace, to his nourishing and healing heart, to the renewed and re-energized life of faith full of Christ’s presence and peace.