Monday, April 27, 2015

I Know My Sheep

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:11-18 (ESV)
“I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me. Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
 “If anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (1 Cor. 8:3(ESV)
“Familiarity breeds contempt,” they say. In the military this was a warning for officers not to get to know their people too well. There was a fine line. I’ve read similar notions in old Pastoral theologies, concerning pastors and the congregation, but I’ve never been all that great at following that advice. Sometimes I wonder if that wasn’t something more or less characteristic of a by gone age when formality, titles and so on were more important to society. I suppose there still needs to be some balance where that is concerned.
Phrases like this come to mind as I’m reading this scripture about Jesus knowing the sheep, knowing you and me, even as the Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father. That’s a special kind of knowing. I don’t think any of us have ever gotten to know another person that deeply and that intimately. Jesus and the Father. Later in the same chapter of this gospel Jesus will say “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30 (ESV) And we have insight into the nature of God and the divinity of Christ, seeds for the doctrine of the Trinity.
One, who are we ever one with? Obviously, not anyone in the same manner that Jesus and God share the same divine essence so that they are one God yet in three persons. The mystery there is something God has given us to contemplate, rejoice and dwell in till the end of time. But we speak of being one with our spouses. The two become one flesh, and there also is a mystery perhaps beyond our own cognition. It’s a reality consummated in the sexual act, Paul uses it as a warning not to become one flesh with a prostitute. You can become one with a person even outside of marriage, but God has meant it to be something deeper than the satisfaction of a one night stand. He has meant it to unite a couple in a lifelong friendship in which two people learn to love and be loved, both of which can be a hard thing to do. It is not without reason that Paul tells Titus to have the old women of the church teach the young women to love their husbands. It is something that actually needs to be learned. It isn’t easy. His was an era of rampant divorce and remarriage much like our own. Familiarity breeds contempt. The saying becomes all too true in the midst of marriage. You sleep next to that person to be startled in the middle of the night by them passing gas in their sleep, the morning constitutional sounding the horns at its arrival in station. The mystery is stripped away. And the longer you spend with the person, the more you get to know them. Love begins to be a lot of work, as the stress of work comes home to roost. Coping mechanism after coping mechanism wreaking havoc, excessive drinking or drug abuse, perhaps even with a prescription, conversation dies once the t.v. comes on and you binge watch Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, or whatever else you can find on Netflix, the credit card bills pile up and threaten bankruptcy as one tries to find a piece of happiness with a new pair of shoes, a dress, new tools and toys.  Indeed, familiarity can breed contempt that is especially hard to overcome with love. Forgiving is not an easy thing to do, and neither is being forgiven. It hurts a person’s pride and cuts into their soul with shame. It’s so much easier to lose your wits in a romance novel. But then it’s only by overcoming these hurdles with each  other that you really learn to love and be loved, when you are loved despite all your faults.
“I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” See now we are getting to the bottom of this. This intimate knowledge of the sheep that the Good shepherd has. He knows his sheep. He knows you, He knows you better than your father or your mother. He knows you better than your wife or your husband does even after 50 years of marriage, and it is quite possible that after that long they know you better than you know yourself. And that is almost a bit scary, because we can’t imagine someone not having contempt after knowing us so well. The reason a wife can know her husband better than he can know himself is because the husband is often willfully ignorant of himself in an attempt to not breed contempt for himself. It’s a coping mechanism that tries to maintain a bit of pride in a person’s life by feeding himself lies about who he really is. But deep down in the darker recesses of the soul the truth is known, the weight of sin is felt, the guilt that only compels one to continue sinning. Down there among the secrets you keep from everyone you know, the secrets you try to forget, or marginalize by highlighting the sins of others. But none of it is hidden. Your sins will find you out! Jesus knows each and every one of them, because he knows his sheep. He knows you, He knows even your sins that come to find you out, pursuing you like a rabid pack of wolves, circling you like a prowling lion ready to consume you. And He is the good shepherd, he does not let them find you out as it were, he does not let the lion consume you, he does not run away like a hireling who has never bothered to get to know the sheep, to concerned with his own pride to allow for the danger of contempt, but he beats off the wolf and pursues the lion into its den. He gives his life for the sheep in his fight. Yes, he loves the sheep they are his. He has looked into their souls, and washed them clean made white as snow in his blood. The good shepherd who became one of them that he might die as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and rise again to lead his sheep into the green pastures of Beshan and Gilead.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

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