Mine Know Me

Fourth Sunday of Easter Scripture Readings

Have you ever felt your heart “skip a beat” when you caught sight of someone special to you whom you hadn’t seen in a while? It happens to me quite frequently because I attend a number of weekly twelve-step meetings and, more often than not, I’ll spot a friend-in-recovery whom I miss seeing. Mutual recognition is an important indicator of the existence of a connection.

By this time, most of us have become familiar with the special interaction that exists between shepherds and their sheep. Lambs grow up trusting the shepherds who care for them. They come to understand that their shepherd will provide them with everything they need to live a decent life. So, they recognize the shepherds. They’re attuned to the look of them and the sound of their voice. In return, the shepherd takes them out to pasture, looks after their hurts, and provides them with a safe refuge where they can rest in peace and security.

Why is it that we focus on Christ the Good Shepherd on this fourth Sunday of Easter? Our gospel readings have been focusing on the appearances of the risen Christ to his disciples since Easter Sunday. Why the switch now to what seems like an earlier phase of Jesus’s life—a time when he was still preaching to the crowds and teaching his followers? The placing of this passage from the Gospel of John on this particular Sunday of Easter is meant to tell us something, and I think it’s something important.

Did you happen to see the movie “Field of Dreams” a bunch of years ago? If you remember, the main character had a vision that if he built a baseball diamond in his cornfield, the ghost of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson would come to visit. So, despite strong opposition from unbelievers, he builds it. Sure enough, not only Jackson but a whole crowd of long-dead players show up in his ballfield to play. Some of the man’s family and friends come to witness the spectral games … all but his brother-in-law, who can’t see any of it. It’s not until a child—his niece—is saved from choking right in front of him by one of the players that suddenly he sees what’s been in front of him the whole time.

What’s that got to do with the resurrected Good Shepherd? How many people actually got to see the risen Christ? Saint Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians [15:6] writes that “… he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.” The point is, very few people ever had physical proof of the resurrection. The first generation of Christians—like those in today’s first reading—at least had personal, eyewitness accounts to rely on. Yet, as the centuries have passed, we’ve gotten farther and farther away from Christ’s appearances and the testimony of those eyewitnesses.

Regardless, there are still literally millions of people alive today who profess a faith in Jesus’s resurrection, ourselves included. On what do we all base our belief? I’m afraid that, like those newborn lambs of the flock, many people base their faith in the Good Shepherd on what they learned as children. There’s a real problem with that because, as we’ve discovered, many Christians can’t distinguish the so-called “Bible stories” of their childhood from the legends like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. All too often they all wind up in the same mental trashcan.

“But,” you may say, “we have the Scriptures to rely on for proof.” That’s when the scientific mindset of adolescence and young adulthood goes on the offensive. Nobody’s told them that the Scriptures aren’t history in a strictly scientific sense. So, when they realize that Adam and Eve weren’t historical figures, that all living creatures couldn’t possibly have ever fit into one boat, and that even the evangelists can’t agree on a consistent timeline for Jesus’s life, it all gets dismissed as “myth”—as if myths had nothing to teach us. For them, if the gospels aren’t strictly historical, why should they believe any of it? … and then we’re back to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.

Or are we? Today’s gospel passage gives us the way out of our faith dilemma. Jesus is quoted as saying, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father …” What grounds and drives genuine faith is recognition. It’s what drove the faith of Jesus’s disciples. Mary Magdalene recognized the risen Jesus when he called her by name. Didn’t her heart leap with joy when she realized it was he? The disciples at Emmaus recognized the risen Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Didn’t their hearts burn when he explained the Scriptures to them? The disciples in the locked room recognized the risen Jesus when he showed them his wounds and invited them to touch him. Weren’t their hearts filled to bursting, once they’d set aside their doubts? Those all were first-hand witnesses. What about the others?

Consider what happened when Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well in the Gospel of John [4:42]. As they spoke, he recognized her, though they’d never met, and she recognized who he was. It so excited her that she ran back into town to tell everyone. The townspeople came out to find Jesus at the well, and told the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” They, too, recognized Jesus. If we haven’t been able to make that leap from what we’ve been told and what we’ve read about to our own personal experience, our faith remains theoretical, at the level of myth and legend.

“I am the good shepherd, I know mine and mine know me.” We mustn’t underestimate the importance of entering into that mutual recognition that Jesus is speaking about. Hidden behind the words of this text is an even more profound reality. The passage begins, “I am the good Shepherd …” In Greek, “I am” is ἐγω ἐιμι (ego eimi). This statement, and those like it, we call ego eimi statements. They employ those Greek words to translate the divine name from the Hebrew יהוה (Yahweh), “I AM.” That’s why Jesus speaks of his relationship with the Father in this passage. Our recognition isn’t of Jesus alone. As he said to Philip, “Whoever sees me sees the Father.” [John 14:9] Since Jesus is the manifestation of the unseen God incarnate in the world and in history, when we recognize Jesus, we recognize the Father, who, in turn, recognizes us.

Isn’t that, ultimately, what heaven is—being seen? No wonder our hearts leap with joy whenever we recognize that we’re in God’s presence! When we recognize him, we’re immediately aware that he recognizes us. “I know mine, and mine know me.” Or, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians 13:12], “… I shall know fully as I am fully known.” The resurrection of Christ is meaningless if it’s just an historical event or, even worse, if it’s just a nice legend. We’re called to live the resurrection here and now, as we recognize Christ in the proclamation of the gospel and the breaking of the bread, and hear him call us by name. For, the Good Shepherd not only leads and guides us, but he loves us so deeply that he even shares his own life with us. It’s that intimate connection of mutual recognition we celebrate today and whenever we come together to share our life with one another and with him … and he with us.

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