Here it is, one of the best loved parables! Or, at least, here is one part of the parable. It is interesting that the church picks this part of the parable to proclaim this Sunday, because in it we hear trouble seven times.
In the Bible, seven means perfect. In this reading then, we have the perfect storm of trouble.
Three times Jesus mentions thieves, twice he mentions bandits, and twice he mentions strangers. A thief might steal a sheep away from the flock, a bandit might cause a sheep harm, and a stranger might lead a sheep astray. We can say that Jesus seems a little concerned about the safety of the sheep.
We know that parables are stories—they are mysteries—that help us think more deeply about God. We have to ask ourselves then, what more does Jesus want us to know?
What could thieves, bandits, strangers be like? What sorts of things distract us from following the Good Shepherd?
Sometimes we are stolen away by things that are really not bad at all—like sports, or video games, or reading—unless they take up all of our time and effort...until we realize after awhile that we have spent little time with family, and even less time with Jesus.
Sometimes we lose sight of the Good Shepherd by things that harm us. Worries or fears. Sorrow or loneliness. Our problems can seem so big that we cannot see how Jesus can help.
Sometimes we are distracted from following the Good Shepherd by our tendencies. Some of us tend to fight with the people we love, some of us tend to say mean things about others, some of us tend to lie. This is not a pleasant thought, but it is the truth, and Jesus knows it.
So what does Jesus do about it? How does he answer this perfect storm of trouble?
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
He answers with abundance. How can we understand this?
If we are hungry and someone gives us half their sandwich, then we would not be hungry anymore. That would be enough. It would solve our problem. Perfect.
But if we are hungry and someone invites us to sit at a table beautifully prepared and offers us all the finest foods, that would be abundance. Way more than enough. Problem, not only solved, but forgotten entirely.
Abundance is more than perfect.
Into our trouble, Jesus comes with abundant life. He has it, does he not? That Risen Life, that life of God, that eternal life that can never end. And he offers it to us.
When we are Baptized, and the water filled with the Holy Spirit is poured over or heads, we receive the promise of this Risen Life of God.
When we go to the sacrament of Reconciliation, and our sins are taken absolutely away, we receive an infusion of the Risen Life of God.
When we are invited to the Eucharist, at the table beautifully prepared with the finest food offered to us, we receive a taste of the Risen Life of God.
These are all sacraments, are they not? There are seven sacraments. A perfect number to answer the perfect storm.
But does the Good Shepherd only come with his abundance in the sacraments? Baptism, for most of us, happened so long ago. And some of us have not yet received the other sacraments. Are we left on our own in our troubles?
Remember, abundance is more than perfect. The Good Shepherd,
calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
Jesus does not say that he "called" his own sheep. He is not done. He still does it.
Jesus does not say he "will lead" them out. He does not wait for us to be older. He does it now.
And the sheep?
and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
We have the Word of God, and in it we hear his voice.
And it is abundant life.