"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me -- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father -- and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life -- only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."
At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, "He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?"
But others said, "These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?" (John 10:14-21)
In this passage Jesus is finishing up using shepherding as a metaphor for his role as Messiah in relation to the Jews and the world. As I read, a few things struck me: first, the relationship we can have with Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is the same that Jesus has with God the Father ("my sheep know me -- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father"). That's an amazing statement! The communion the Son of God has with his Father, a connection words have difficulty explaining, is the same we can have with Jesus. This aspect of our relationship to God is multi-faceted and deep, both complicated and simple, and could take all the blog posts on the internet to flesh out; but I want to emphasize right now that, if you feel far from God, know that an intimacy human language cannot describe is possible with Him through Christ.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. (Matthew 7:7)
Second, God honors sacrifice ("The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life"). Humans have a tendency for self-preservation, a trait you can't blame us for having, but at times can seem repulsive. Media portrays this well as the selfish man who is only out for his own good is often starkly contrasted against the selfless hero, ready at a moment's notice to throw himself into danger for the sake of others. Consequently, the self-preservationist is the one who gets eaten by the dinosaur or crushed in the earthquake by a falling building, and the hero gets the girl.
As a society, we celebrate the selfless hero (whether or not we exemplify those traits in real life), and I can't help but think that part of that is because God, who loves the Son who sacrificed his life, put that quality in us. The danger here is to wait for the "big" moments to realize that ideal, when I would argue that the truest form of sacrifice comes in daily laying your life down for God and others. Love your wife when you don't feel like it, pay attention to your children when you'd rather look at your phone, do a good job at work when the boss is not looking, read the bible when you'd rather watch TV -- these are the practical sacrifices of a life surrendered to God that will impact those around you, and lead to a life of character, a life that honors God.
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
Finally, I take comfort in the fact that people were conflicted over Jesus' words ("At these words the Jews were again divided"). Sometimes I read the sayings of Jesus and think, This sounds crazy. Do I really believe this? But it helps to know that the people standing there, listening to the same words but also seeing the person of Jesus had the same struggles. Two thoughts on this: first, if God came to earth and sat in front of you and started talking, don't you think that this infinitely higher Being would sound a bit strange? Imagine what a Person who exists outside of time, who has been there since the beginning, who was the beginning, would say! I'm sure the words would melt our ears and blow our minds with their majesty and depth! But this did happen, and we have his words here. And sometimes that don't make sense...and that's okay.
Also, after some particularly difficult teaching by Jesus, many disciples left him. Then, going to the Twelve, whom he chose as his inner circle, Jesus has this discourse:
"You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:67-69)
What a beautiful response, and one that can ring true for us too. When following Christ gets hard, and his teaching doesn't make sense, or maybe his voice seems absent altogether -- we are left with a decision of where to go -- whether to continue following or not. But I pray your answer and mine in these difficult times is the same, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You are the Holy One of God, the Messiah." Though they don't always make sense, these are the very words of God, to which we must cling in all confusion and doubt. They are life and truth, and if you have trouble accepting that, I charge you to read the scriptures! I think you will find the words soothing and regenerating, light in a world of darkness and the very voice of our Good Shepherd calling us to follow him.