“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.”
Knowing and Being Known
Who we are, as beautiful as we are, we’re also a bit of a mess, defenseless, finding life overwhelming, which God knows and God loves.
-Br. Curtis Almquist
Our focus this week is inspired by John chapter one, verse 18, where we remember the closeness that Jesus had with God, whom he calls “Father.” And to look where this relationship, the intimacy of this relationship, informs the same kind of relationship that Jesus invites of us. The English word ‘intimacy’ comes from the Latin intimus, which means “closeness.” It’s a kind of relationship where barriers can be dropped – and you hopefully will have the experience of this with someone (in the) present, and hopefully (in the) past, who is a safe presence with whom you can be uncollected, with whom you do not have to be scripted to make a perfect presentation, just to show your strong side. But rather someone with whom you can be very transparent.
I’m sometimes listening to someone and they’ll say, “Oh I’m just rambling,” or “I don’t know what that had to do with this.” But I, as a listener being invited into a very open and often vulnerable conversation, clearly see how all of this belongs together. So we’ll be talking about intimacy: What is it that invites intimacy with other people and with God, and what is it that gets in the way of intimacy, of having a close and trusting relationship with other people, which will also inform how we relate to God?
One of the greatest fears in life for many people is that they might be known, that they be exposed, that they be “outed,” that the truth get out. One of the greatest fears in life. One of the greatest needs in life is to be known, to be “outed,” for the authentic me to come forth, to be known and accepted. Greatest fears, greatest needs. With this wonderful metaphor that we hear Jesus take on in John’s gospel that he is the Good Shepherd – which, of course, means that we are sheep.
Now there’s a very tender meaning behind beautiful sheep but it’s also a rather pathetic metaphor. Have you been around sheep before? I’ve spent an amount of time with sheep and shepherds. Sheep are clueless. What we read in Psalm 23 about sheep needing to be led to green pastures is so, because they can’t find food themselves. And unless they are moved along they will eat a green pasture down to the dirt and it will be dead. They can’t find water, they have to be led to water. And they’ll only drink still water – very particular needs about water. Sheep get lost all the time and they need to be defended. They’re virtually defenseless and so shepherds have a rod and a staff to both rescue but also to fend off the predators. Sheep are also filthy, absolutely filthy.
So there’s this kind of tender image of sheep, which is quite true. There’s also a pathetic truth about sheep. They are so abjectly in need. And I think it’s not insignificant that Jesus takes on this metaphor of being the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep – and we are his sheep. Who we are, as beautiful as we are, we’re also a bit of a mess, defenseless, finding life overwhelming, which God knows and God loves. How is it that you find yourself a beautiful sheep? What about sheep do you find attractive, tender, inviting? And if you are a sheep certainly the way shepherds understand sheep, how is it that you’re in such abject need, prone to get lost, needing to be defended, and why?