Good Shepherd Sunday

Whenever we read a book, watch a movie, or contemplate a work of art, we enter into something of a relationship with that artwork. The relationship could be momentary and fleeting, pleasing to our senses, but easily forgettable. It could be a deeper engagement, during which we stare at it and become lost in its details and brushstrokes; it pleases us yes, but it speaks to something deeper in our hearts and demands our full attention. So, we stare and ponder. We try to understand the message that its creator is sharing with us. And the more layers of meaning it has buried in its imagery, words, or sounds, the longer we stare. We will not be satisfied until we understand what it is telling us.

The academics of the world tell us that this kind of engagement with art puts an artist’s or author’s intent at the center. A different way of engaging with art looks at the other end of the relationship. It puts us at the center of the interpretation. That school of thought emphasizes that the meaning of the work is subjective. Each of us brings our own experiences, perspectives, identities, biases, etc. to the relationship with the piece of art.

Most people prefer one of these two ways to the other and often discount the other. A friend of mine who favors the subjective method of interpretation went so far in his preference to tell me once that an author’s intent was completely unimportant when reading a book.

Personally, I think they are both valid and important. However, if the artist never painted and the author never wrote, then there would be nothing to see or read. So it seems to me that there is an order to the relationship. 

And so, it is with Scripture.

God is the Author of Holy Scripture. The Holy Spirit worked in the hearts and minds of those ancient authors – most likely in ways that they themselves did not understand – to provide us with testaments of His covenants with us that are relevant to every generation of every people. The Apostles and their successors received the charge from the Son to preach the Good News and the ability to do so from the Spirit at Pentecost. In other words, the Church has the mission and inspiration to teach us the Divine Author’s intent in the words of Scripture.

But at the same time, as with any work of art (for indeed, Scripture is ultimate written art!), we bring ourselves into it when we read and hear it. We encounter the Word and build a relationship. God speaks to us through the Word in a way that we personally need to hear.

This is a very long way to lead to saying something about Good Shepherd Sunday.

It was just over a year ago that I began the process of breaking from my old life in corporate America to find a pathway of greater meaning. While I would eventually be led to work for the Church here at St. John’s, my initial conclusion of that discernment was broader. I was missing two very important things in how I was living my life: community and service. 

So even now, I find myself reflecting on “community” frequently. Whether it is the community of the Church at large or our parish at St. John’s, it is daily on my mind. I am thankful to experience the beauty of the family that I have found here. I am constantly astounded at how our parish is truly a family of faith. And when I see or hear of the cuts and bruises amongst us that exist in any family, my heart breaks.

And so, when reading the today’s Gospel, my subjective experience with Christ’s words is to think about us as His flock. The Lord is of course telling us in the Gospel something very essential about His own nature and His mission on earth. When he goes out to rescue that lost sheep, we rightfully recognize ourselves in that sheep. We were either stupid enough or unlucky enough or victims enough to need rescuing. We look at the image of Christ with a lamb around his shoulders, bringing it back to the flock, and see the hope that He never gives up on us.

Today, I am thinking of after He pulled us out of the bramble bush of sin and solitude that we were trapped in. He placed us back into his flock and we are now with the rest of the sheep. We are back with our brothers and sisters. We are the flock. We are in this together

The world is full of wolves, seeking our souls’ destruction. Those wolves sometimes wear the infamous sheep’s clothing. And while we must be in the world, let us remember that the most important community we have is with each other in the Church at large, with the Catholics here in Jackson, and right here at St. John’s. In baptism, we are united in an unbreakable bond with each other.

Christ tells us today that some of us stray. He tells us that there are others that have not yet heard His word. But being part of His flock is His will for each and every person on earth. 

Let us strive to be worthy of this gift of spiritual and earthly community. We will never be perfect at it. We are human beings and human families have their challenges. But let us always remember that we are a flock together and we have the Best Shepherd that will bring us back if we get a little too far out there.

What are we going to do to grow this family and make it better?

My Lord, Best Shepherd of them all, give me the grace to appreciate the gift of being part of Your flock. Grant me humility to understand that I am one of many and grant me the conviction I am an important part and loved part of Your family. Give me a generous spirit so that I am a means – and not an obstacle – to You bringing my lost brothers and sisters back to our flock.