Homily of 22nd April 2018
Acts 4:8–12; I John 3:1-2; John 10:11-18
I am the Good Shepherd, says the Lord. I know my own and mine know me.
I know my own and my own know me. What, my sisters and brothers, can be sweeter than this word of the Lord Jesus? Does this not sum up our whole Christian life? Does this not capture in one phrase our own call and vocation to monastic life? At the deepest part of our being, at the core of who we are, is this wonderful and awesome fact: We are known by the Lord.
Is there anyone in your life experience about whom you can truly say: He or she knows me? Through and through. My strengths and my weaknesses. My dreams and my fears. My hopes and my failings. Your mother? Your father? Your spouse? Your best friend? Your counselor?
What is involved in such knowing? Is not the first thing we think of that it is not what we call knowing at all? This sort of knowledge is not intellectual in the narrow sense, but comes from a deeper biblical usage of the word. As one exegete puts it: “Such knowledge is not just intellectual awareness, but mutual relationship.” Another phrases it this way: “Knowledge in John is not a cognitive category, but is a category of relationship. The true measure and model of knowledge is God’s and Jesus’ mutual relationship.” And as we know from later in John’s Gospel, this relationship is characterized as an “abiding in love.” Hosea had long before pointed to this: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
I know my own and mine know me.
If this is what such knowledge is, my sisters and brothers, can another truly know us this fully? It seems to me that another human can never get that close to us. Even in the most perfect of families, even in the closest relationship between husband and wife, friend and friend, there is always an area where we are alone, solitary. These relationships always leave something to be desired, something to be fulfilled. And this is all well and good. We need such a relationship in our lives, but in the end, they open us to something further.
Remember what we just heard in the Letter of John: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and this is what we are…. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”
I know my own.
Jesus knows us thoroughly, he tells us. All the way down. And this knowing is not blinded or emotionally driven, as is so often true of our human loves. This is scary! Is there not a part of us that fears too much exposure? Are we not afraid that if someone, even God, knows us this closely that we will not be loved? Think about it. Someone knows our deepest dreams and our deepest nightmares, our true strengths and our very vulnerable weaknesses. Will we still be loved? And yet today’s Gospel tells us Jesus knows us thoroughly and this very knowing is Love. “I know my own.” And the immediate consequence: “and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus knows us as the Father knows Jesus and Jesus knows the Father. Totally. Fully. And that knowledge is the total gift of himself, is love.
To put it another way. Abiding in the Father’s love, Jesus hears the call to hand his life over for the sheep. And so, in the end, to be known by the Lord Jesus is to know ourselves as being among those for whom Jesus died. We belong to the flock, this community here; this community united by our listening to Jesus’ voice, the Gospel says, this community for whom Jesus has died. And as a community, as a sheepfold, we will soon gather around the altar in one united circle to once again share in Jesus’ gift of his life to us and for us.
“I know my own… and I lay down my life for them.”
Does this sharing in Jesus’ gift of himself not bring with it a commitment to lay down our lives for one another? Do you remember how the children in Narnia were told that they had been brought into that land so that they would know how to live in their own world? In the same way we are known by the Lord and made a part of his community, his sheepfold, so that we too will have the strength and the courage to live for others, to lay down our lives for the sheep. When we do this, my sisters and brothers, we will find in such giving the joy which comes from touching the very well-springs of life, for we are touching the very life of God. A mutual knowing that is Love Itself.
“I know my own and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”