Knowing and Loving Jesus
Fourth Sunday of Easter. Fr Duncan Campbell helps us to see how Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, communicates the presence of God to us.
We say in the creed that Jesus is God. This wasn’t clear at all at first, even to his close friends and followers. He was their Rabbi, their miracle worker, their healer, and preacher; later, to those closest to him, he was anointed Messiah, the King to come, to rescue his People from slavery.
They would share the feelings of everyone at the time. God would be ‘on high’. He could be looked up to. He couldn’t be seen. For simple people, this would be because he is too far away. For more thoughtful people it would be because he is a spirit – something they tried to imagine, not in any place or time, but in every place and time; invisible, unknowable, haunting, even frightening. Other religions still have God like this.
Jesus was to show us that God isn’t like that at all. God loves us. He is our leader, our guide, our protector. Jesus talks about shepherd, and sheep – a very striking picture of this. It was already there in the Scriptures. One of the most popular psalms is ‘God is my shepherd’.
TheTheT picture of a shepherd can suggest many new ways of thinking about God. A shepherd would die, to protect his sheep. A shepherd would know his sheep, and his sheep, know him. A good shepherd could tend a great many sheep. He would be loved, by the owner of the sheep, for caring so much for them. With all this image of a shepherd, Jesus shows us what God is here to do for us.
It is striking then that he talks about himself. He says ‘I am’ – the very words God uses, to Moses, to introduce himself, at the beginning of the Jewish story of their life with God. This might not have been noticed – because Jesus talks about his Father. This loving way he draws attention, from himself, to his Father, and talks about Father, and Son, and Spirit, shows a knowing and loving taking us right into the reality of God knowing and loving himself, the Trinity
When he insists that a shepherd would die for his sheep; that he would know and be known by them; that he would look for sheep needing shepherding; that he would gather them all to himself; it leads us right to the truth – about God – and Jesus.
God can’t die. A man can. God can’t go about, looking, for all the people who need him. A man can. God can’t make himself recognised, and understood, by people. A man can. God can’t make himself visible, to people loving him, and following him. A man can. It helps us understand the truth of what we say in the creed – God became Man. We have God, at work among us, in Jesus. The enormous extent of God’s work for us is shown, in the many men and women, loving, and following him, and working for him. He is a shepherd of countless shepherds now.
Today, unfortunately, we are lumbered with history. There are churches, sharp disagreements, and quite different understandings of Jesus. We have come far from the ‘one flock and one shepherd’, and the ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ that St Paul insisted on.
There are meetings now, with resolutions, of many previous disagreements. It gives hope for real unity. The friendliness and collaboration among us is Christian, but leaves issues unresolved, and people dissatisfied and confused.
The solution is in Jesus’ words – ‘listen to my voice’. We must each be willing and eager to know what Jesus wants us to be, what he wants us to do. We must be ready to follow wherever that leads. It would be important to know all we can about the real history and origins of our churches. To know our family history. Recount our own story. See possibilities for us. There are unpleasant facts to face. There is sin, and saintliness, everywhere. The reasons things happened we can come to understood. Knowing all this, finding the real Jesus, will help us enter ‘the one flock’, of ‘one shepherd’.
Readings: Acts 4:8-12 |1 John 3:1-2 | John 10:11-18