The context of today’s gospel (Jn. 10:27-30) is the feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem. Jesus is in the Temple when he is approached by some Jews who begin to question him, asking if he is the Christ. The feast of the Dedication marked an historical moment in the history of Israel when the Jewish people were able to overcome their Greek oppressors and re-dedicate the Temple by destroying and removing a pagan altar that had been placed there. The context is important because it demonstrates the importance of the Temple in the culture and psyche of the Jewish people. The Temple was the meeting place between God and his people. The Temple was the visible sign for the Jewish people of their belonging to God. This sense of “belonging” is of importance.
In his reply to their questions our Lord says, “My sheep…” Another translation gets more specific and has our Lord say, “The sheep that belong to me…” Elsewhere in the gospels our Lord says that he is the good shepherd and he then shares the attributes of the good shepherd but here the focus seems to be more on the sheep and true belonging. True belonging is not ultimately to be found in any sort of physical structure but in relationship with Christ, who is God incarnate in our midst. This is the new covenant that our Lord inaugurates and it is the covenant in which we belong and have fullness of life.
What does it mean “to belong”?
“My sheep hear my voice…” To “hear” the voice of Christ is to let it enter into one’s life and one’s heart. It also means being willing to listen. In the equation of Christian life there is a part that is our due. We have to take the time and make it a priority to listen to God through prayer, through reading the Scriptures, through receiving the sacraments, through being active in community. We have to be willing to turn off all the distractions that this life affords in abundance and listen for the voice of the shepherd. We also need to not let the voices of fear drown out the voice of the shepherd. We need to guard our hearts for the one voice that brings true life.
“I know them, and they follow me.” In the third chapter of John’s gospel, our Lord tells us that everyone who does wrong hates the light that has come into the world and avoids it. This is the human condition weakened by original sin. We all have this fear in us. We all want to hide away parts of ourselves – our sins, our weaknesses, our little egos. The Christian life is a journey of letting go of this fear. We need to allow Christ in. We need to allow him to know us and we need to trust in his love and his mercy. It is like going to a doctor. A doctor cannot prescribe the proper cure if we keep our mouths shut and do not say what ails us. Christ is the divine physician but he wants to hear from us what ails us. Knowledge and love are connected. The more that we are known by Christ, the more we know we are loved by Christ and then we follow – not out of fear or obligation – but out of love.
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” This answers the deepest yearning of the human heart – to belong eternally. This is the hope that we have as Christians – already planted deep within our hearts. C.S. Lewis describes it as the memory of the distant land we have yet to visit. It is a hope that continually pulls us forward – beyond our limits, our fears and our sins.
The truest friendship we have is friendship with Christ. His words spoken to us are words spoken in friendship and they are words that invite us into the greatest mystery – in Christ we come to know the Father and we come to know that we belong to him.
“No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”