There is something really powerful about being called personally, by your name. When someone has cared enough to be bothered to find out who you are and learn your name and use it with confidence, it says something about how they respect you and want to treat you.
In many cultures around the world, the story of how a name came to be given to someone is an important part of how you came to have a recognised existence and presence in the community.
Our sacrament of baptism speaks to our naming and our identity in God’s kingdom. God truly knows us.
In Ghana, one of a child’s names is the name of the week on which they are born. One of my friends was born on a Friday, so his first name is that name in his language, and to supplement it, he has another, second name.
My sister and I have three names, but we’re both called by our second name. My sister as the first child, bears the female version of our father’s first name which he carried from his father, and so on.
I am sure you have similar stories which are interesting and intriguing and start to describe who we are, where we have come from and a bit of our life story.
We are told that Jesus was with God in the beginning before the world was created. We’re told that God knows us, before we are knit in our mother’s womb, that God knows the number of our days and will be with us at the end. Jesus says in the next few verses, ‘I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father’.
In this particular gospel reading we hear Jesus saying as the Good Shepherd:
‘…the sheep hear his voice. He calls out his own sheep by name and leads them out. …the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’
I remember when my children were very young, I could identify my sons’ cries out of a room full of children and other noise. You can hear their breathing, in the still of the night. You know when things are right or wrong. You simply ‘know’ them, in the fabric of your being. The trust in that relationship from them as completely dependent babies and children was overwhelming. Unquestioning.
And I wonder if it is the same for us with God.
There is something very, very powerful about the imagery Jesus is using with his disciples and the Pharisees in this story. The Pharisees are challenging his most recent healing of the blind man in a synagogue, a healing that has taken place just before this conversation. Jesus was healing someone who was not necessarily particularly noteworthy – on a Sabbath, and Jesus himself came from Galilee, a poor region. The Pharisees didn’t trust him.
Yet to them, Jesus was saying, ‘its not what I look like or what I do or where I come from. All those things that you look at on the surface, judge and decide with your intellect whether it makes sense and can be tested is not where the truth lies. It is instead, what you trust and hear in your heart.’
And so my friends, as with the Pharisees, if you refuse to recognise the clues, you will not recognise Jesus. If you don’t listen with your hearts you will not hear with your ears or see with your eyes. If you discount or judge people badly based on surface values, you will miss Jesus. You will not see him. You will not hear him. You will not learn to trust him. You will turn your back on the opportunity to have a relationship with Jesus and you will not see the open invitation of the Holy Spirit.
Our trembling frightened hearts may mishear, we may be tempted to follow the wrong shepherd, trust the wrong signs or clues, ignore Jesus’ call to us; we may not hear our name being called because we are looking in the wrong place.
We may not know our names as we do not know ourselves.
Jesus then turns the discussion around again. He adds to his listeners that he is also the gate for the sheep, not simply the shepherd.
Jesus can open our hearts, point to the way, and then lead us on the way. There is deep reassurance in this reflection that Jesus is with us always. Jesus is with us so much, he laid down his life willingly for us.
His trust in us is unwavering, unmoving, complete and loving. He goes all the way to the cross for us. As a shepherd, as a leader, friend, guide, and constant companion, whether going to Emmaus or to Jerusalem, Jesus is present and ready to engage.
Whether we are in difficulty, scared, lonely, engaged in wrongdoing or simply broken in heart, Jesus is ready for us.
And finally, it is worth hearing afresh as Jesus remind us, that he brings us, his disciples and followers out of the safety of the sheep pen, the safety of what we know and the people we are used to, into the life of a follower of Jesus.
As disciples, we are walking in Jesus’ footsteps, who’s passion for justice, his compassion, and love for each of us, means that he was despised, hated, vilified, judged and killed.
That is our path too.
Jesus did not come to secure our lives and make things easy for us. Jesus came to call us into his life with God, which means a different life to the one we imagine and perhaps desire, a life of safety and security, comfort and being able to hold onto the things we value.
Jesus came to send us out into God’s world, powerless except trusting in God like children, to spread the news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the news of God’s saving love for us which is so great that Jesus was prepared to die for us; that it is possible to have hope and to be forgiven.
As Jesus said: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’
The Lord be with you.