In today’s Gospel Story Jesus tells us he is the gate for the sheep, and whoever enters through him will be saved. In the Psalm we pray, “The Lord is my Shepherd”. When we are open to possibility, this can be a very profound personal experience for us, or not. Our choice. It depends a lot on how trusting we are willing to be.
In the Story Jesus is comparing himself to the temple and religious leaders and roundly criticizing them for abusing and misleading the people. They laid down and enforced rules and laws, and, believing they controlled people’s access to God, aimed to keep people they saw as “undesirable” away from God. Jesus, on the other hand, lived his Father’s love with everyone he met, often going out of his way and incurring religious criticism for doing so. One might wonder what he would say today. But, when we prayerfully look at the Story from our own life and perspective, we might have some insight to the personal effects of the Story.
As I look at my own journey, I am increasingly convinced that God really protects us from nothing, but is a Presence that is with us, in us, and sustains us in everything always. God is not an escape from what we don’t like, but the way through it all. Being saved isn’t limited to our life after death, but growing to our fullness in our life right now. We seem to like placing limits on God who pretty much ignores them, fortunately for us. God happens in our life now as it is, not as we wish it were, or as others, even the church, tell us as it ought to be. God happens in and through the people who are in our life, all of them. When we are open to this, we have to be willing to lay down our expectations of others, and instead let Jesus move us in whatever direction we need to go, and perhaps to grow. Of course he can’t do this without our consent and cooperation. We have to want to be open to him leading us.
Jesus is the Shepherd who leads us and walks with us, helping us grow. At times he might lead us in a direction that we do not like, perhaps to see God in a new way that we haven’t thought of, or begin to understand we don’t have all the answers and have everything figured out, or to see people differently from what we are used to and comfortable with. When we are really open to Jesus and willing to follow him, odds are that we will move in a direction that others will not like. We cannot expect others to follow the Shepherd in their lives as we follow him in our life. We might ask Jesus for the grace to know him, to recognize him as he is in our life, which might not be the same as we want him to be. He tells us that whoever enters through him will be saved, something that begins to happen right now and is not limited to later after we die. Being saved is growing into the fulness of what we are created to be. We might become aware of a partnership with him as we go though our days, in whatever is going on, something like “we got this”, as we go through our life together.
In the Psalm we pray, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow death I fear no evil because you are with me”. From time to time in our life we have our own version of this valley, and it is not nice. At times we might be aware of Jesus the Shepherd leading us, other times not so much. Our life is not neat, orderly, and convenient. Sometimes we need to let go of the images we have of Jesus, and begin to accept him as he is in our life, not out there somewhere, but right here with us in whatever is going on.
In the Gospel Verse we hear, “I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep, and mine know me”. Jesus is the source of our life, and he knows us more than we know ourselves. He is “in whom we live, and move, and have our being”. He knows us as we are, not as we wish we were or want to be, and also our fulness of who we are created to be.
We might ask for two things: that Jesus guide and lead us in our life without having any restrictions on where we will accept him leading us, and that we be open to wherever he guides us and have the courage to do whatever he is calling us to do with him. If we believe we have all the answers of how everybody has to live and what everybody must believe, we might have some difficulty being open to Jesus if we find he is leading us away from this. Some will probably claim it is the devil trying to lead us away. There is a lot of this sort of thing from people who think they know and have all the answers, and already have God all figured out.
In the Psalm we pray,: “He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valleyI fear no evil; for you are at my side, and give me courage”. When we’re there we need courage because we know we don’t know. From my own life, I know that this really does happen, and he is real. Just sayin . .