"I know my sheep and am known of mine."
Today is the Sunday traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday.
The Good Shepherd says, "I know my sheep and they know me." How do we
know our Lord and how does he know us? Does he know us only intellectually?
We know a lot of facts about Jesus. We know that he was born in Bethlehem
in what today's calendar would be 4-5 B.C. (Scholars are a bit uncertain:
they just aren't sure.) He was taken to Egypt. He was raised in Nazareth.
He visited the Temple at the age of twelve. He worked for a time as a carpenter.
He was baptized by John in the Jordan River. He healed and preached for
approximately two and a half to three years. And He was executed as a criminal,
approximately 28 or 29 A.D.
We know some other things. We know some theology about him. He is one
person with two natures. That is, that he is both man and God. All these
things are important because Christianity is, after all, unlike every other
religion in the world. Christianity is an in-history religion. It's not
a philosophy about life. It's a religion based on what actually happened
in our human life, that is, in history. But as important as these facts
are, atheists and devils know at least that much. And it doesn't make them
any better. Well, then, how about knowing Jesus emotionally? Others say
that to know Jesus intellectually is not sufficient. The important thing
about knowing Jesus is to feel inside yourself in a certain way about Jesus.
They call this "being born again" or "accepting Jesus as my Savior" or
"giving my life to the Lord" or "letting Jesus into my heart." Now these
things are important too. Where you give your heart says a great deal about
where you expect to find your treasure.
We don't always find these warm feelings and emotions present within
us. At those moments, when emotionally we're just as dead as stone, it
doesn't mean that we've ceased to be Christians. Feelings are not dependable.
We ourselves live in a time when love is seen as feelings rather than as
commitment and look what a mess we've made of love in our society. An emotional
rush may be thrilling, but it may also disappear at the next movement of
the barometer. Then what do we have? How do we know Jesus? When Jesus said,
"I know my sheep and they know Me," He was speaking publicly at the Feast
of the Dedication, which we now know as Hanukkah. The feast celebrated
the Maccabees, those brave Jewish soldiers who kept God's commandments,
even when it cost them everything. The first time they did battle with
the Greek armies, to try and throw them out and restore the Temple, came
the Sabbath Day and they wouldn't fight and they got slaughtered. The Greeks
said, "Aha, we'll go pick on them on the Sabbath Day; they won't fight.
The Jews changed that strategy rather quickly. In future battles they gave
themselves a dispensation for the Sabbath Day. That's how serious they
were about keeping the Commandments of God. They stood there and died rather
than break one of his Commandments.
The mind and the heart are indeed involved in knowing Jesus, but they
are not enough. To know Jesus truly is to know him as Lord. That is, with
our mind: that he is God and man. To know him as the One to whom we are
totally committed. That is, to know him with our hearts. These two kinds
of knowledge must result in a certain way of living. We must also involve
our wills and the choices we make.
This is Good Shepherd Sunday in which we celebrate that the Lord is
our Shepherd. That makes us His sheep. The clergy like to have fun when
they're just among themselves about referring to their sheep because sheep
are not among the brightest of animals. Until it's pointed out that one
of the first things our Lord said to that first lot of bishops was, "I
send you out as sheep among wolves. He was not referring to their parishioners!
He was referring to those who would attempt to harm them. So we're all
sheep. As I said, they're not the brightest of animals. Nor do they have,
as far as we can tell, particularly strong emotions. They don't leap around
like monkeys at the zoo or even butt heads like mountain goats. They just
stand there and chew grass. But they can obey and they can disobey.
Jesus calls himself our Shepherd. He does not call himself our Good
Idea. He did not ever, so far as we know, call himself our Biggest Thrill.
Rather, he called himself our Shepherd and we are to be his sheep; not
just his students and not (to bring the terminology up to date) to be his
groupies. We are his sheep. Like good sheep, we know him in following him.
Living as he taught, not as some bright idea we think is better. And in
worshipping as he taught, not as some bright idea we think is better.
In the end, there is no other way to know Jesus. We can't think our
way to being good Christians and we can't feel our way to being good Christians.
We can only do what he set out for us to do; to live as he taught us to
live; to follow after those whom he himself sent to be our shepherds; to
worship in the only way the New Testament records that he taught us to
worship: that is, to live by the Church's precepts in communion with the
Church's bishops and centering our lives in the Church's Eucharist.
If we know him, then he has promised that he will know us. "I know my
sheep and they know me." He will know us in this way because he will see
something of himself in us. Not as he knows facts about his creation. I'm
sure that Jesus knows perfectly well that E=MC2. And I don't think he cares
a whole lot. It's just the way he made things. Nor will he know us as he
knows His spiritual foes. And he does know them. He could spot Satan at
work quickly enough.
In those who do follow him faithfully, in their lives and in worship
and in the life of His Church, he will see something of himself. Imperfect,
to be sure, in each of us and in all of us together. But still something
that could have come from no other source. And it is to that that he will
respond when we presents ourselves at his heavenly sheepfold. For that
response he came once to make his life available to each of us, and he
comes to offer himself - both for us and to us - in every Eucharist we
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.