May 11, 2014
Christ is our good shepherd. But what does a shepherd do? Today’s gospel answers this question succinctly. It tells us that a shepherd leads the sheep in and leads them out. Both of these actions are required, if we are to have a healthy relationship with Christ.
At night the shepherd leads the sheep in, in through the gate, into the sheepfold. He leads them in because the night is dangerous, the time when wolves prowl about for food. So leading the sheep in is to protect them, to offer them comfort and security. We need to trust that Christ is present to offer us protection and comfort in the dangerous times of our lives. When we have to face family turmoil, physical sickness, or financial hardship, we need wisdom and courage. Then it is important to understand that we are not wandering around in the dark alone. Christ has gathered us in, to experience the security of his presence. He is watching us and guarding us through the night.
But our relationship with Christ is not just about security and comfort. The shepherd also leads the sheep out: out of the sheepfold into the world, out to do his work. Christ asks us to serve others. He calls us to be the best mothers and fathers, sons and daughters that we can be. He leads us out to build his kingdom, to attack injustice, to oppose oppression, and to help those who are in need.
Christ, our good shepherd, both leads us in and leads us out. He comforts us and challenges us. He gives us security, and he calls us to serve. These two dynamics are essential parts of being a disciple. They are also interrelated, because one suffers, if the other is absent. If we begin to think that our relationship with Christ is merely about our security and comfort, it can easily become selfish. We can begin to focus more and more on ourselves, on our wants, fears, and needs. When this tendency begins to take hold, then we must allow our shepherd to lead us out, out of preoccupation with ourselves, out into service of others. But on the other hand, if we begin to think that our relationship with Christ is merely about doing his work, we can easily become exhausted. We give and give to our family, to our friends, to our community until there is nothing left. When this begins to happen, we must allow our shepherd to lead us in, into the security of his presence, into the comfort of his love. We must take time to withdraw, to pray, to be thankful for what we have received so that we can find the energy to serve again.
Christ, our shepherd, both leads us in and leads us out. We should let him. We should go in, embrace his presence, and drink in his love. Then, we can go out and be his presence in the world.