(Ezek 34, 11-16, Rom 5,5-11, Luk 15, 3-7)
Today’s gospel is the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 righteous sheep to go look for the one lost one, and brings it back on his shoulders. It is not the gospel that first comes to my mind when I think of the Sacred Heart. But since it is the image the Church puts before us this year, I’ve been thinking about the qualities of a shepherd that we can apply to our life together as community, how we can shepherd one another. The first reading from Ezekiel: De bortkomne vil jeg lete etter, og de som er drevet bort fra hverandre, vil jeg føre tilbake. De som er skadet, vil jeg forbinde, og de syke vil jeg styrke. A shepherd seeks out the other, brings those who are separated back together, binds up the wounds of those who are hurt, and strengthens the sick. We can imitate Jesus by caring for one another, looking out for one another, being reconciled with one another, trying to meet the needs of the other sister, and being tender with her weaknesses.
You’ve seen this before, but I thought of this contemporary portrait, which at first glance seems just another holy card of the Good Shepherd. On closer inspection, one notices the lamb licking the wound of the shepherd, who is himself the Lamb of God.
I admit that I hardly know how to put this into practice in my own life, but my attraction to the wounds of Jesus has led me to believe that there really is something here for our community life. It seems to me there is mutual help and healing between the sheep and the shepherd. The shepherd is holding the lamb with only his right hand. His left hand holds the shepherd’s crook. It is the lamb’s own curved body which holds it in place on the shepherd’s shoulders. Jesus in turn rests his head on the lamb’s body as if on a pillow. He who had nowhere to lay his head, can in fact rest his head on the body of one who has caused him some trouble, some expenditure of energy in searching for the lost one, and probably a detour in the desert which was a change in plans for the grazing and shepherding tasks of the day. If we cling to Jesus, wrap ourselves around his neck, we gain access to his wounds which nourish us. Perhaps it is the sister who causes us some trouble, costs us an outpouring of energy and a change in our plans for the day, whom we can rest on in some mysterious way, if we accept in faith that God’s providence has sent us this "trouble."
The lamb licks the wound, which cleanses and soothes it. The shepherd who will bind up the wounded, is himself wounded. By licking the blood, the lamb also "drinks from the wellsprings of salvation." From the reading from Romans, this is the blood which justifies us, which saves
us from the wrath of God, that is, judgment. Even in his resurrected body, Jesus bears the wounds of his passion. The wound is still open. I can imagine that the shepherd even offered his wound to the lamb, as he did to Thomas. Here, feel me, taste me. "All you who are thirsty, come and drink!"
That which we have most in common with each other, and with those who visit us, is our woundedness, our human condition. I’m suggesting that we can deepen our bonds with one another if we have the courage to be vulnerable with one another. In some mysterious way, I believe our wounds can nourish another person. Apparently blood still issues from the Good Shepherd’s hand, and this nourishes the lamb who receives Jesus’ lifeblood. Think back over a wound we received in the past, whether justly or unjustly. What have we learned from it, that can be said to issue forth from the wound, that is lifegiving to others?
The shepherd, when he finds the lost sheep, calls his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him. It is a communal celebration. Ree would tell us you can have a party as long as there’s cake, but it’s much more fun if you can share it with a crowd who will enjoy it. Jesus invites us as community to share his joy when each of us has a turn to ride on his shoulders, and to give rest to his head. Each of us has a chance to drink from his wounds, and, if we dare, to allow each other to see our vulnerable places, whether of body or behavior. Even to allow another to gently probe the place of injury. Somehow, offering our wounds to another is lifegiving for the other, as well as healing for ourselves. There is something about seeing another’s vulnerability which enables us to love more, and gives us the courage ourselves to be more vulnerable. This sharing at a deeper, scarier level binds us more closely as community.
There has been much discussion in the order recently about what leadership looks like today. At the last MGM, Peter McCarthy made an intervention which I think is very beautiful. He said that when he first became abbot, his image of his task was the Good Shepherd, the one who pretty much has his act together and can help others. After some years of experience, he said the image changed to the man with the withered hand whom he healed on the sabbath. Jesus asks him to come forward, and stretch out his hand in the midst of the crowd so he can heal it. A shepherd is one who is wounded, and has the courage to show his weakness in the midst of the community.
Michael Casey says that contemplation is the fruit both of radical self-honesty and of kindness to others. As we look upon the Father with the eyes of Christ we are rapt in contemplation. As we look on people through the same eyes, we find that we are drawn into compassion. Contemplation and compassion are inseparable. Love is indivisible. The love poured into our hearts by the Spirit not only joins us to God, it also increases our solidarity with those around us through recognizing their lovableness and bearing their burdens with equanimity and even a measure of joy.
As Guerric says, Jesus’ side was opened that we might have a way in to his heart. Our heart becomes J’s heart, and becomes expanded by that love which bears all things. Tolerating each other’s weaknesses becomes easier, and even a joy, because then we are like Christ, whose
heart was fully human, and pierced both by our sins and our love. Beatrice of Nazareth says those who enter into the heart of Jesus find the freedom to be fully themselves.
She is like a fish that swims in the breadth of the ocean and rests in the depths. She is like a bird that flies in the spaciousness and height of the sky. Thus she experiences her spirit as walking unbound in the depth and spaciousness and height of love.
May we, today, enter Jesus’ broken body through one of his many wounds, and rest there, close to his heart. May we enter more deeply into the body which is our community, if we dare, through the wounds of another, to find at the center, our heart, which is Jesus’ own.
Mother Gail sent me this photo of Jesus Forgiving Peter from the Church of the Primacy of Peter in Israel. What I noticed is the shepherd’s staff. It’s hard to see because of the shadows, but Peter clings to it as if for dear life. He dares not touch Jesus, but it is the staff that will raise him up from his knees. So another way we can shepherd each other is to forgive each other. The staff which directs and guides, and sometimes punishes, is the hard reality which names the hurt which needs to be forgiven.