“I am the door of the sheep… If anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
Today’s gospel reading is an extension of yesterday’s gospel of the blind man. Here Jesus is addressing himself to the Pharisees hostile to his healing on the Sabbath. Although Christ is saying to the Pharisees that they are unfit to be shepherds of the people because they refuse to enter through the true door, namely himself, my focus today is on what it means to be a sheep following the true shepherd.
Christ identifies himself as the true Shepherd who is prepared to lay his life down for his sheep. These sheep in turn follow the voice of their master living their life under his sure and certain protection. Further, he makes clear that there will be those false shepherds, who come with false and seductive doctrines, who attempt to steal the sheep. Those false shepherds are to be reviled. Indeed, as chapter 23 of the book of Jeremiah states, “woe to the shepherds who destroyed and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord”.
So what does it mean to be a rational sheep belonging to Christ? The short answer is to follow Christ. The question thus really is how do we follow Christ? Searching the gospels gives us some understanding of what it is required. When asked as to which are the greatest of commandments Christ responds in Mark’s gospel that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might, and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself. In other words these two arrows of love, namely to the invisible God and to the visible other, must reflect from each other to form a complete and absolute love. Love accordingly is not conditional nor is it measured out or is it given expecting anything in return. How many of us can say that we love thus?
Who is our neighbour? In Luke’s gospel we are told of the parable of the Good Samaritan. There Christ says to the lawyer who responded to his question – of whom from a priest, a Levite, or a Samaritan proved a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers – that it was “the one who showed mercy on him”. He responded to the lawyer “to go and do likewise”. Accordingly, the neighbour is anyone who needs our help whether it is material, emotional or spiritual. This love for the other is Christ’s paramount teaching. One only has to remember chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel where Christ is asked the question “Lord when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcomed thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?” In response Christ tell them “truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me”. The matter is plain. You cannot love Christ and not love each and every one that we come into contact with in our lives. This is despite the fact that they may have differing political, racial, social, economic, hygienic or religious values to our own. Christ’s gospel calls us to be actors and not reactors to the things that happen in our daily life. We are called upon to show love, mercy and compassion not in any begrudging or mechanical way but in true and absolute love. For Christ calls us to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Indeed, Christ says even if you are offering a gift at the altar leave your gift there and go to be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift.
Let us all act as being worthy of the name Christian. Let us follow Christ. Let us see Christ in each member of the human family. Let us confront ourselves. Let us challenge ourselves. After all, as true shepherd Christ gave his life for his sheep so that they may in return have eternal life which is the greatest gift of all. In gratitude should we not give to the other a measure of what has been richly meted out to us? Ultimately, we are all stewards of whatever we possess. We take nothing with us from this life other than our deeds. Our true measure on this earth is not how we acquire things but how we share them. Let us all strive to work for the master. Let us all listen only to the voice of the true shepherd for through him we will be saved. Let us all go in and out under his protection and find good pasture and everlasting life. Amen.