Have you ever found yourself in the waiting area of an airport and you are on stand-by? You keep waiting for your name to be called – you hear other names called, why not yours? It’s important you make this flight. Weren’t you relieved when your name was called?
Remember how pleasantly surprised you were when someone remembered your name and how embarrassed you were when you couldn’t remember someone else’s name.
We don’t know what the situation was in the Christian community to which St. John wrote his gospel many years after the death and resurrection of Jesus that prompted him to use this example of shepherd and sheep. As in other Christian communities of the time there probably were tensions. Different people had different understandings of whom and what Jesus was all about. St. Paul ran into such a situation in the Christian community of Corinth. He complains about the jealousy and wrangling in the community. Paul rejected the slogans, “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas.” His response to these slogans was, “we are all of Christ.”
Probably facing similar dissensions we have St. John showing us Jesus as the Good Shepherd, a shepherd who knows his sheep and calls them by name.
History tells us that the many shepherds brought their small herds down to Jerusalem for the festivals and these various flocks were kept together in one big sheepfold. How, you might ask, does each shepherd retrieve the sheep that belong to him since there were no brands, no markings of any kind?
The first way is that the shepherd can call each of his sheep by name. He has been with them on the hillsides night and day, leading them to good grass and safe water. They are no strangers to him. The shepherd has a name for each sheep because they each have a personality that is special to them, just like human beings. When they hear their names called they head toward the shepherd.
And second, the sheep recognize the actual voice of the shepherd; after all they hear it day after day.
Jesus would teach us from this imagery of shepherd and sheep the wonderful truth that the God of the universe calls each of us by name. In Jesus God knows each and every one of us better than we know ourselves. What God said to one of the prophets He says to each of us, “before you were conceived in the womb I knew you and called you by name.” St. Paul claims that “before the world began God chose us in Christ to be His adopted sons and daughters.” To stress this intimacy God has with us, Jesus tells us that the very hairs of our heads are numbered. God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
So today our responsorial psalm is the famous “The Lord is my shepherd.” He journeys with us throughout our lives. Our shepherd, who calls us by name, brings us to green pastures and still waters to restore us when we are convinced we just can’t go on. Our shepherd, who calls us by name, protects us as we walk through the dark valleys of illness or bereavement, of lost or betrayed love, those dark valleys when we feel so inadequate, a failure. Our shepherd, who calls us by name, helps us overcome the setbacks and disappointments of life and gives us the grace of joy and satisfaction of knowing we have overcome, we’ve prevailed. Our shepherd, who calls us by name, will bless our joys and sorrows with goodness and mercy all our days until we come to dwell in God’s house forever.
This is vocation Sunday, a day of special prayers that young men and women will answer a call to a life of service with the church. It’s Called by Name Sunday. Remembering we are all called by name we pray that some of our young men and women will their name called to a life of service in the church.
As we continue to celebrate this Eucharist we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we grasp this wonderful truth, that every day of life each one of us is called by name by our Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us, His sheep. Every day of life He calls us by name, to his life, his love, his healing. Every day of our lives we are called by name to live our shepherd’s great commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”