Monday in the Fourth Week of Easter at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Acts 11:1-18; Jn 10:11-18
Let’s begin by taking a moment to reflect on this question: Imagine God thinking about you. What does He feel when you come to mind?
The chief mark of the Good Shepherd is that He lays down His life for the sheep. The reason He does this is because He and the sheep have a relationship: “I know mine and mine know me…” In the light of the question we began with, this idea of Him knowing me bothers me. Does He know me like I know me in the light of relationship with Him? This is not pretty. I know that doctrinally the right answer is that He loves me regardless. My caution more reflects the truth that He deserves more than I’m giving. You see, humans want to earn the love they seek. But there is more to His statement that He knows us.
He says, “I know mine and mine know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” That’s an amazing statement! Jesus actually draws us, just as we are, into the life of the Trinity! Don’t try to comprehend it. Just take it on faith. As Jesus often told people in the gospels, “Your faith has saved you.” The faith we are to have is in the person of the shepherd. What we resist is that His unconditional love is not achieved; it is allowed. We surrender to it.
Looking closer at this relationship, we see thatthe shepherd, as a leader, has certain challenges. Jesus is the New Moses and like Moses He is leading people to a relationship with God. This will require faith and hope. Moses and He faced two challenges as leaders: a Technical challenge and an Adaptive challenge. A Technical challenge is one in which there are problems the people encounter and the leader must solve them. The Book of Exodus is about the technical challenge of escape from slavery. Through a number of miracles at the intercession of Moses they were solved by God. Jesus solved technical challenges through His many cures, changing water to wine, and multiplying loaves to feed the crowds. For both men no change in character on the part of the people was called for. The people were acted upon. They weren’t ready for surrender.
Adaptive challenges are ones where the people are the problem. This is what the Book of Numbers is about. The heat was off for the people; they had safely escaped the Egyptians and were preparing to enter the Promised Land. “Then they rebelled against Moses.” They encountered battles and dangers that demanded courage and responsibility. They were becoming a people who had to act; they had to adapt, to change. If they didn’t, they would no longer be a people with a problem; they would be the problem. This changed the whole relationship between Moses and the people.
The same happened with Jesus. The Good Shepherd can be the gate; He can lead them in and out. When they are in the enclosure they are safe. When they are outside they have to adapt. With both Shepherds, Moses and Jesus, there were enough miraculous events that should have given the people confidence. The shepherds could not get people to adapt. People resist change, especially when they perceive it to be a loss.
When Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd” and “I am the gate” He is saying that we must put our Hope in a person, Himself, not just in events and not in our personal cleverness. The object of Hope is a future good that is difficult to attain. Its second object is for divine assistance. In the absence of hope we are left with either presumption or despair. The adaptive challenge for us is to relinquish the delusion that we can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of the world if only we manage well. That won’t work. If we get what we want we become presumptuous. We want to deserve, to earn what we seek.If the world does not give it to us we despair.
What the world doesn’t hold it can’t withhold. The shepherd is leading us to the Father who created us, knows our purpose, and wired us for serving it. If we feel inadequate, we can trust that feeling. The adaptive challenge for any novice facing vows or any professed facing a crisis is to believe the Great Promise: “I shall go with you.”
So again, how does God feel when you come to mind?