A religion teacher tells this story:
“I’m one of thirteen children. One day when I was playing in the street of our hometown, I got thirsty and came into the house for a glass of water. My father had just come home from work to have lunch. He was sitting at the kitchen table with a neighbor. A door separated the kitchen from the pantry and my father didn’t know I was there. The neighbor said to my father, ‘Joe, there’s something I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time. You have thirteen children. Out of all of them is there one that is your favorite, one you love more than all the others?'”
“I had my ear pressed against the door hoping against hope it would be me. ‘That’s easy’, my father said. ‘That’s Mary, the twelve-year-old. She just got braces on her teeth and feels awkward and embarrassed that she won’t go out of the house anymore. Oh, but you asked about my favorite. That’s my twenty-three-year-old, Peter. His fiancee just broke their engagement, and he is desolate. But the one I really love the most is little Michael. He’s totally uncoordinated and terrible in any sport he tries to play. But, of course, the apple of my eye is Susan. Only twenty-four, living in her own apartment, and developing a drinking problem. I cry for Susan. But I guess of all the kids…’ and my father went on mentioning each one of his thirteen children by name.”
The teacher ended his story by saying: “What I learned was that the one my father loved the most was the one who needed him most at the time. And that’s the way (the Father of) Jesus is: he loves those most who need him most, who rely on him, depend upon him, and trust him in everything. Little he cares whether you’ve been as pure as St. John or as sinful as Mary Magdalene. All that matters is trust. It seems to me that learning how to trust God defines the meaning of Christian living. God doesn’t wait until we have our moral life in order before he starts loving us.”
The image of the Good Shepherd is a powerful one. It makes very vivid how much we are loved by Christ. Although we heard John’s version of the Good Shepherd story this morning (this evening), there is an aspect of this image mentioned in Luke’s gospel that we can tie in here as well. In Luke Jesus speaks of himself as the door to the sheepfold or the sheep gate. In Jesus’ day the sheep were kept within a stone wall about as high as your pew, but there was an opening for them to go in and out. So there was no door. Instead, at night time, the shepherd himself would lie across the entrance and any marauding wolf would have to get by him. And so, literally he would lay down his life for his sheep. Think about that one: Jesus lying across our doorway (so to speak).
But in John’s gospel there is added a further intimate touch. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.” He knows us. By name. There’s a relationship. Jesus Christ is not an abstract thought. The Father’s love for us is not just a theological concept in a book. And so, trust in Jesus. He’s not going to abandon you. He wants to heal you, he wants to protect you, he wants you to rely on him. In time of trouble, to whom do you turn? Do you seek Christ’s help? When a trusted friend offers you a helpful word, do you see that as ultimately Jesus speaking through that person? Do you see Jesus Christ as being involved in your life? This is what we are asked to remember today on this Good Shepherd Sunday.
The great jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “The greatest thing in the world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” In what direction are you moving?–toward Christ?–are you moving with Christ? Is Christ real for you or just an abstract concept? Remember, Jesus knows you by name. He knows what’s bothering you right now. He asks you to trust in him and to be confident in his never failing love. He is at the doorway to your heart–keeping watch, but also wanting to come in. He knows you each by name. Allow Jesus the Good Shepherd into your life and remember that he loves those most who need him most.