Why should Jesus be the one we should follow? Why should we place absolute trust in his voice among all the voices and noise we hear in our world? Why should he be the one equipped to be our Good Shepherd, the one to lead us to pasture?
Our second reading proclaimed to us the promise of our ultimate goal. The glory of this final destination is something that escapes us for now. We cannot put this heaven into words that come anywhere near expressing what this renewal of our life will mean for us. St John recognises this as fact, and yet he can tell us something we can know even now: we shall be like God, seeing him just as he is. Scripture says again and again that no one can see God and live, that no one has ever seen God, and yet there we shall truly be, seeing God as he really is.
And we can add our sure hope that this celestial vision of the Holy Trinity will be the perfect answer to all our desires for what is good, true and beautiful. The sight of this Supreme Good will slake the deepest thirst of our souls, crowning our lives with a share in the depth of knowing and loving that satisfies the infinite being of God himself. The vision of God will fulfil all that we are by giving us more than we could ever have dreamed of, and it will be enjoyed for ever.
This, however, is no easy goal for us to arrive at. It is difficult first because it is a goal that outstrips all our powers to attain. How can we human beings, with all our natural limitations, come to be like God, knowing and loving the infinite God just as he knows and loves himself? We are finite and he is infinite – what power could we have that could reach all the way to him? Not only does this make it impossible for our human power to grasp him, but we ourselves have also created new obstacles that prevent us from making our way towards the destination: the way of sin that takes us off the path to God or, worse still, points us in entirely the wrong direction.
Today’s Gospel shows us why Jesus is the shepherd who can bring us to the goal God wants for us, despite everything that may block our path. The Good Shepherd is one who knows the Father. This means that Jesus already has a vision of his Father he can share with us: when we finally come to see God as he really is, we shall be participating in Jesus’s own vision of God. We shall be gazing on the Father with the eyes of Christ himself, united with him in one body. Only so shall we be able to see God as he really is. This is why Christ is our Shepherd even now, because only he can lead us to where he already is, enwrapped in knowing and loving the Father.
The Gospel not only tells us that Jesus knows the Father: it also tells us that he laid down his life. These two facts are closely linked. It is because he knew the Father so intimately that he had a penetrating knowledge of the great good there is in creation and of how creatures fall short, of how much we need salvation on account of our sins and the reality of death, and of how it was the Father’s will that he should lay down his life on our behalf. In one sense it was Christ’s profound knowing of his Father that crucified him, leading him to a death that destroyed our death, and bringing us the forgiveness of sins. By his free offering up a life so precious, the Good Shepherd removed those obstacles that kept us from our heavenly homeland.
Jesus was equipped to be our Good Shepherd not only because he saw the Father but because he could die for the sake of our salvation. This is why we can trust the voice of this Good Shepherd, and why we must belong to him. He speaks to us of what he knows, and so much has he loved us that he died for us. As our first reading teaches us, our healing, our salvation, come through his name alone.