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Fourth Sunday of Easter (B)

Acts 4:8-12; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Jn 10:11-18

April 29, 2012


Just the other day a good friend of mine was telling me about an Episcopal priest whom he thought was one of the best pastors he had ever met. As an example, my friend, who is a Presbyterian, told me that several years ago he had been attending an Episcopal church fairly regularly and had gotten to know this pastor quite well. His wife attended another church, but one Sunday in July, his wife attended the Episcopal church with him, and on that occasion he introduced her to the pastor. The next time my friend's wife went to church with him was some five months later, on Christmas eve, and she was blown away by the fact that, when she approached the pastor for communion, he unhesitatingly said "Jane, this is the body of Christ!"

Jane! He knew her name. This was a sign of how caring and attentive the pastor was. People were not just people to him. They were people with names, for whom he cared about individually and personally. Each had her or his own story. Each had her or his own needs. Each had her or his virtues and struggles. Each was important.

As we celebrate "Good Shepherd Sunday" this week, one of the things that we might realize is that Jesus too - the very best of pastors ("pastor" is Latin for "shepherd") - knows each of us by name. "I know mine and mine know me," he says in today's gospel reading.

"I know mine": In a moving reflection for this Sunday published in the service Give Us This Day (April, 2012, 386-87), Fr. John Sandell writes about how intimately the good shepherd knows us. He knows all the good things about us - what we aspire to, the good deeds we do that don't seem to get recognized by people. And he knows all the embarrassing things that we wouldn't want others to know about, or the issues that we struggle with about faith, about relationships, about sexuality. Jesus knows, too, about our dreams and struggles with our discernment, about our fears to make commitments, about our fascination with risk. Jesus knows all about us, but that's not all. Knowing us so well, "warts and all," as we say, his response is just to love us. He tries to shepherd us toward being better, more caring people, and he tries to shepherd us away from our selfishness and sinfulness. But this is because, knowing our names, he loves us.

"And mine know me": As we realize how fully the good shepherd knows our names, maybe we can begin to know his Name. Maybe we can begin to understand that his Name is total Acceptance, that his Name is Mercy, that his Name is Love. And as we get to know that Name, maybe we begin to realize that his is really the only "Name" by which we can be "saved," as Peter exclaims in the first reading. We don't get saved by just avoiding sin, or even doing good deeds, or by doing things that "earn" God's love. No, it is only in the Name of acceptance, and love, and mercy that we find salvation - in this Name and in no other. We can only be saved, in other words, because this Name knows our names! Only in Jesus can we be made whole, be forgiven, given courage, grow in love and service, receive healing.

Note what I've said above, though - that "we can begin to know," "we can begin to understand." This, I think, is John's point in the second reading. We can only get a glimmer of this now. We can know, because the good shepherd knows our names, that we are his sisters and brothers and so God's children. But there is more to come. One day we will see God like God really is. Then, as St. Paul has written, we will know as we are known. Then we will know how thoroughly the good shepherd knows our names.

By Steve Bevans, S.V.D., the Louis J. Luzbetak, S.V.D., Professor of Mission and Culture  

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