HOMILY, Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2015
Fr. Charlie Fox, Spiritual Director, St. Paul Street Evangelization
Knowing and being known
One of life’s heartaches is being misunderstood. Even the people closest to us don’t always seem to “get” us, and we can sometimes be left wondering whether anyone really knows us at all. And when we feel misunderstood we also feel alone, which compounds our pain.
Of course, when we take the question of whether anyone really knows us and turn it around, we have to admit that we also struggle to understand other people—their feelings, their motives, what “makes them tick”, why they act the way they do.
This struggle to understand people finds a place in the Bible. For example, the Prophet Jeremiah laments, “More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). And St. Paul applies this difficulty even to our own self-knowledge. He writes in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself” (4:3). Paul then points to the answer to this mystery, writing, “I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord” (4:4). When we’re tempted to think no one understands us, we need to fight against that temptation. There is always Someone Who understands us perfectly, the Lord Jesus, Who in today’s Gospel describes Himself as “the good shepherd” Who knows us, His sheep.
One of the great consolations of the Christian life is that in our encounter with Jesus we find the understanding we seek from other people but never quite find. As I draw close to Jesus, I discover that He truly knows me, and in knowing me—I say to myself—He will understand and sympathize. What a tremendous blessing it is to realize that Jesus knows me comprehensively, knows me at my very depths, knows me better than I know myself!
At the same time, we need to think a little further about what it means to be understood as Jesus understands us. We need to ask:
• What does it mean to have my soul pierced by a single glance, to be known at the deepest core of my being?
• What does it mean to have my every thought, motive, weakness, and rationalization laid bare?
In my own self-sympathizing, I can explain away all of my defects pretty easily. There’s always an excuse, always a reason for my self-indulgence, I tell myself. But does not further self-searching hint at deeper causes, underlying my excuses, accounting for my choices in a more honest way? And do not even these causes point deeper and deeper, to mysterious depths within myself that are shrouded in a kind of darkness where God’s grace interacts with my free will?
We may not be able see into these depths with absolute clarity, but Jesus can! Psalm 139 expresses this with such truth and beauty:
“LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
LORD, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me
and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
far too lofty for me to reach.” (:1-6)
That Jesus knows us so well, so deeply, so perfectly, then, is both a consolation and a challenge. It’s a challenge to turn our whole lives over to Him, not just to “talk the talk” but to “walk the walk”, and not even just to “walk the walk”, but to do our very best to make sure that our inner self—with all of its thoughts and desires—is aimed at doing the Lord’s will.
But how can we know the Lord’s will if we struggle even to know ourselves? The answer is that we can know Jesus and His will by the gift of His grace, and according to His promise. “I know mine and mine know me,” Jesus says, and then adds, “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Not only, then, can we know Jesus, but our knowing Him is something like the way Jesus and the Father know each other! That’s the kind of intimacy into which Jesus calls us.
And knowing Jesus—in and through Scripture, the teaching of the Church, and especially in the Holy Eucharist—is not static but dynamic. We grow deeper and deeper in our knowledge of Jesus, in our friendship with Him. And if, like sheep, we wander or are threatened by the attacks and temptations we inevitably face in this life, Jesus will come after us. He will do all He can, short of forcing us, to bring us back into His flock. He will search us out; He will fight to defend us; He will place us on His shoulders and carry us home, particularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” Jesus tells us, and He has done so on the Cross. How can we not want to have the closest friendship possible with the One Who knows us perfectly, Who loves us enough to die for our salvation, and Who only asks that we stay close to Him in His Church? Don’t let anything stand in the way of your friendship with Christ!
[Pictured: Third century fresco of Christ the Good Shepherd in the Catacomb of St. Priscilla, Rome]