In July 2011, our brother Tom and I spent a few days in Rome. In many ways, the highlight of our visit was the pilgrimage we made, deep underground, into the Christian catacombs. I remember it was a very hot day, but as we walked down and down, through the intricate labyrinth of tunnels, the temperature plummeted. I remember shivering with cold, but also with awe. We were on holy ground, for on each side of the tunnels were recesses for burial chambers. Here, in the very first centuries after Christ, Christians buried their dead. As my eyes slowly got used to the dim light I began to see that the walls were covered with a plethora of beautiful colored frescoes.
O my God, you are here… but always you are where we are, and always you love us, calling us each by name. Amen.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday Jesus tells us that he “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Well, that’s a metaphor, no matter what sheep-like sounds we might make at odd moments or how much we might sometimes behave like sheep. It’s still a metaphor. We’re not sheep. I feel quite confident about that as an unequivocal statement. But though we are not sheep, we do respond to this picture of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. We respond because he says he has come so that we might “have life, and have it abundantly.” God really wants us to get the most out of life. If we love life, if we choose life, we respond with joy to the one whose deepest desire is to give us life in abundance. If we do not love life, if we choose death, then we respond more readily to the enemy of the Good Shepherd, the thief, who Jesus says, “Comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”