Phone books. Anyone here remember phone books? Big printed books with lots of names and numbers. Try and find one these days. We have many more phones, but very few phone books.
Even in this digital age, when some people read everything on their phone or tablet, we still know the difference between a novel and a phone book. You cannot read them the same. You would not read the phone book as if it were a novel. If you did, you would say, "Lots of characters, little plot". On the other hand, if you read the novel like the phone book, you would find it very confusing, disorganized, un-informative. So you need to know how to "read" a particular piece.
The same is true for Scripture. The Bible is really not a book, but a library, with all sorts of literary forms in it: history, law, narrative, novella, poetry, prayers, songs, letters, and other forms. If you want to understand Scripture, you need to know what form of literature you are looking at, and read it accordingly.
Today’s Gospel is very short, but powerful. It contains a lot of emotions. It strikes me as a love letter. These are tender words, private words, words spoken in intimacy between lovers. They should be spoken softly, almost whispered, with sincerity and feeling.
"Jesus said: ‘My sheep hear my voice." "My sheep" is a term of affection and endearment. When the Lamb of God refers to us as "My sheep", this is not a put-down, like “what a dumb bunch of sheep”, but rather an address of great tenderness. Maybe you have a special name for a child or spouse or sweetheart; a name that expresses a lot of affection and care and tenderness. ... “My sheep” should be spoken the same way.
"My sheep hear my voice." How important genuine listening is to communication! To hear Jesus’ voice is open our hearts to Him. It is communication and union on a level of intimacy. To really hear another is a truly great gift.
"I know them," Jesus says. This is much, much more than book knowledge, or information gathered from the internet. Rather this is personal knowledge. It comes from intimacy. It is certainly not “I know what you are up to” kind of reading.
No, this is intimacy, shared secrets and hopes. It is not knowing just about the person, but knowing the person herself. Jesus knows us in this deep and close way.
"I know them, and they follow me." Several times in the Gospels Jesus invites and commands: "Follow me." This is what we do. We are in love, and so want to be with Jesus, the Beloved. We follow Him, because He is the desire of our hearts.
"I give them eternal life," Jesus continues. This love is fruitful, fecund, lifegiving.
Eternal life is not just life that goes on and on and on without end, but is rather full, complete, total, absolute life, all that we long and yearn for. This is what Jesus gives us, the fullness of life, eternal life.
"And they shall never perish." Jesus is faithful. He is not a faithless lover. All of us have been wounded and hurt by the pain of abandonment, by disappointment, by heartbreak. But not with Jesus. His love is firm. It endures. It prevails. We can count on him. "And they shall never perish."
"No one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father is greater than all, in what he has given me, and there is no snatching out of his hand." There is safety with the Lord. This relationship brings security. As we heard in the second reading today: "Never again shall they know hunger or thirst, nor shall the sun or its heat beat down on them, for the Lamb on the throne will shepherd them. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."
There is no more need for fear, for anxiety and crippling worry, for headaches and sleepless nights, for the concern and worry that ties your stomach in knots. All that ceases, for The Lord is our Shepherd, protecting and watching over us. "And there is no snatching out of his hand." We are safe.
Finally, Jesus says: "The Father and I are one." This is the deepest of all communion, of intimacy, of sharing life, of love. The union between the Father and the Son is the fullness and perfection of love. This is the love that birthed the universe, the love that is the completion of all that there is. And this perfect love is the model of our union with Jesus. As the Father and Son are one in love, so are we to be one with Jesus in love.
The Gospel today is short, but powerful. For the words are packed with meaning and emotion. They speak to us of the tender love and care that Jesus has for us. And that is wonderful. ALLELUIA!