Psalm 42:2-3; 43:3, 4
The first part of the gospel reading is more focused than the explanation offered in the second part. The parable focuses on the shepherd, while the explanation is focused on Jesus both as good shepherd and as sheep gate. Because the thrust of the parable proper is the good shepherd, who is trusted by the sheep, I will let the good shepherd image direct my comments.
There are two dimensions to this image, one of which is the good shepherd’s attitude toward the sheep. On the shepherd’s side what is showcased is the other-centeredness of the good shepherd, who seeks what is good for the sheep, in contrast to the self-centeredness of the intruder, who seeks to profit from the flock. It is important for us to take note of these opposed attitudes, because, just as each one of us is “my brother’s keeper” [Gen: 4,9], so we are also our brothers’ and sisters’ shepherds, whether we seek or like to be that or not. In our daily interactions with others we “lead” them by what we say and do, and most of all by what we are. Because of this it is essential that we foster in our hearts the other-centeredness characteristic of the good shepherd. As I read recently in a parallel context, we need to enter our interactions with others not with the question “What’s in it for me?,” but rather with the question “What’s in me for it?” This is other-centeredness at work.
The image’s other dimension is the sheep’s attitude toward the good
shepherd, which is one of deep trust, a trust that grows out of familiarity:
they know the shepherd’s voice, each feels addressed when the shepherd
pronounces its name. This of course raises the question of how familiar
we are with our Shepherd. Do we relate to the Lord on a third-person
basis, or on a second-person basis? When we face a decision, do we ask
“What could God [third person] want of me?” or do we ask “What do You [second
person] want of me, Lord?” as Paul did on his way to Damascus [Acts 22:10]?
With reference to a currently popular question, we may be more spontaneously
inclined to ask “What would Jesus [third person] do in this situation?”
instead of asking “What would You [second person] do in this situation?”
A second-person rapport makes us more vulnerable to God’s desires, but
today’s parable seems to be nudging us to ask for the grace of growing
in this type of second-person rapport of familiarity with the Shepherd,
so we can recognize his voice and feel addressed when called by name.
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