There is an old saying “Home is where the heart is”- meaning of course that one’s home is not so much a house or even a physical location, but rather that ‘place’ where one is surrounded by those who love you and whom you love, or indeed the place where you feel you belong. Thus ‘security’, ‘welcome’, ‘hospitality’ and perhaps most of all ‘belonging’ are words that can also be associated with one’s sense of ‘being at home’.
To find one’s home is most often to identify the relationship or set of relationships that gives one a sense of belonging, identity and most of all of being loved – and loved unconditionally – at a personal level.
This seems to be the key to understanding today’s gospel text. In an age where relationships can be defined in a myriad of ways, and/or with many relationships being more virtual than tangible, we seek to find the meaning and unity of our lives in a faith relationship with Jesus Christ – known to us today in his resurrection.
It is not always easy to speak of our relationship to Jesus in that we now only see him through the lens of the resurrection. As such we ‘know’ his presence but cannot describe it in ways that are measurable, tangible or indeed physical. We speak in the language of mystery, but it is a ‘language’ supported by the experience of generations and by our own deeper senses that allow us to know in non-scientific ways.
Martin Buber, the 20th century philosopher, spoke of the human person in terms of dialogue, encounter and relationship. These three elements seem to be the foundation of being human, in that we only know ourselves through the encounter with others, through dialogue with the other and in relationship to another.
It is the same with our knowing of Jesus Christ. That is we may use these three dimensions to speak of our knowing him through encounter, dialogue and eventual deep relationship.
And in today’s gospel the Johannine community explore this encounter, dialogue and relationship with Jesus through the metaphor of a simple, but easily visualised rural image of the day – that of the shepherd, the sheepfold (or small gated area with its gate-keeper) and the sheep themselves.
The Johannine community share their faith experience through this image to speak not only of his relationship with each person, but more deeply of how we to might find our home in him.
Jesus is the one who welcomes us into relationship and who facilitates this by guiding or ‘shepherding us’ in this direction. He is the one who ensures our safety, who calls us by name, who invites us to follow him and is the one in whose presence we feel no temptation to run away.
This relationship with Jesus is in such contrast to others we can experience where we may be forced into certain actions, or which feel like an invasion of our space or dignity. Jesus in relationship to us will never kill hope or steal away our freedom.
The true sign or fruit of our relationship with Jesus – our true home- is that we will feel ourselves coming more and more into life – and life to the full.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.