Knowing the Shepherd

Today’s post will be different. When I write, I write on Fridays. But this morning our basement flooded and I spent the morning dealing with the impact of the water damage. So now I have just a few minutes to write. 

The Gospel passage for Sunday is John 10:27-30. But I always like to read back for fuller context. So our passage comes from earlier in Chapter 10 where Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd. 

My attention was drawn to two verses. Since I am short on time, I’ll build my meditation here:

“I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” (Jn 10:14-15)

What is Jesus saying here? I believe it is something marvelous. If we begin to unpack it, what he is saying is: in the same way that I know the Father, my sheep know me. In the same way that the Father knows me, I know my sheep. 

Who are the Sheep?

Who are Jesus’ sheep? His sheep are those who hear his voice. This is another way of describing his disciples. Which is to say me and you, insofar as we desire to be one his disciples. You and I are among Jesus’ disciples. We are his sheep.

Thus this passage becomes: in the same way that Jesus knows the Father, so we know Jesus.  In the same way the Father knows Jesus, so Jesus knows us.

That should cause us to wonder: how does Jesus know the Father? And how does the Father know him? What is their relationship like? 

The relationship between Jesus and the Father is one of interior communion. Jesus says the Father sent him and he lives by the Father (Jn 6:57). He also says everything that is the Father’s is his and that everything of his is the Father’s. (Jn 17:10). He says that he is one with the Father, that he is in the Father and that the Father is in him (Jn 17:21). This last verse is the most expressive of their interior communion.   

These phrases are enough for us to chew on today. Jesus is saying that what is true of his relationship with the Father is true of our relationship with him. That as Jesus knows the Father, so we are given to know Jesus. And that as the Father knows Jesus, so Jesus knows us.

It also follows that the interior communion Jesus enjoys with the Father is one that we can experience with Jesus. Which means we can live by him and be sent by him. Which means that what Jesus has he wishes to share with us. Which means the qualities of his heart are meant to be the qualities of our heart. And it means that Jesus wishes to live in us and that we have the grace to live in him. 

So here’s a question: why are these magnificent notions not more commonly understood, indeed celebrated? Surely we don’t live this way. Can we live this way? What prevents us from living this way? 

Faith as a Window

I think I have a clue to this question. It has to do with the role of faith, of activating faith. Jesus tells his disciples many times that faith is what saves them (eg. Mk 5:34). And on other occasions, where faith was not present, it is said he could not work many miracles (eg. Mt. 13:58). Faith, in other words, is a necessary entry point to the life of grace. It is something like a window. Where there is a window and where it is open and clear, light can enter a room. If something blocks the window, a screen or a blind, light will have difficulty entering. So, too, it is with grace in a human soul. Where there is faith (the window), grace can freely enter a human soul. 

I think the same is true with what is revealed here about Jesus’ relationship with the Father. Faith activates our entrance into this interior communion with Jesus. Faith enables us to live with Jesus what he lives with the Father, to know Jesus as Jesus knows the Father. Through living faith, Jesus wishes to draw us into an interior communion with him that is like the communion he lives with the Father. We access this magnificent truth first through faith. When faith is present in our heart, the truth of Christ’s relationship can enter our souls. That light can penetrate our intellect and our heart. Then, perhaps, we will gradually find ourselves living into this truth at the level of our actions.

Closing Verse and a Prayer We Can Take With Us: 

“I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Jn 10:14-15 

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, you draw me to the communion that you share with the Father. I am slow to believe it. Have mercy on me a sinner. Teach me to assent to this communion and to express it at the level of my actions. Amen.

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