I don’t think I’ve ever seen a funeral on television that didn’t include a recitation of Psalm 23 at one point or another. Most of us can quote at least part of it: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” I don’t know if there is an image more familiar to us than God as shepherd. It sounds so nice, so comforting. Yet, if truth be told, I don’t know if there is anything quite so revolutionary as that image. Instead of the majestic, all-powerful, almighty God, we are given the image of shepherd. Shepherds get dirty with their sheep. They smell. Because sheep need to be pastured daily, shepherds work all the time—even on the Sabbath!! The Jewish people somehow lived with this contradiction, that God is both majestic and humble, both enthroned in glory up in the heavens, and yet dirty and smelly here with us. But when Jesus came along saying that he was the shepherd, well that was going too far. How dare he put himself on par with God! And to top it off, in today’s gospel passage, Jesus says that he is both shepherd and gate. What might that mean? And how do these images help us to get to know Jesus better face to face, as we’ve been saying.
I think that as gate, Jesus is protector. He watches out for our security and safety, protecting us from those who might take advantage of us. And as shepherd, Jesus seeks us out, he knows us, he takes on our scent. Pope Francis, in his first message to priests after becoming pope, urged us to take on the smell of our people. I think we are all called to do that: to get to know one another so well, to know each others’ needs, and to be close enough to one another as to take on their scent. Wouldn’t that be something, if we were to try to live that way today? If, as Christians, we would be known as people who care for one another, who look out for each other? Perhaps, if we started to live like that, we would receive what Jesus came to bring us according to our passage from John’s gospel. As he himself states, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I pray that we each get to know Jesus face to face, as the one who wants us to have abundant life, and to help others to live that way as well.