Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Hear about the evil shepherds of Ezekiel 34, and how Jesus identified the Pharisees with them. “You shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd.”
Hearing that passage read in the synagogue throughout his youth, Jesus must have absorbed it to the core of his being. Look at Ezekiel’s list: the weak, the sick, the wounded, the strayed, the lost. When we read the gospels we see that this list almost defines the life’s work of Jesus.
“I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” A scholar writes, "The relationship between God the Father and his Son is the original model and reason for Jesus' fellowship with his own." This knowledge that the Father and Son have of each other is not information or so-called ‘objective’ knowledge. It is intimate knowledge. Strange to say, it is this latter kind of knowledge that needs validation today.
In 1958 the distinguished scientist Michael Polanyi wrote a remarkable booked entitled Personal Knowledge, in which he rejected as a fiction the ideal of ‘scientific detachment’. “In the exact sciences,” he wrote, “this false ideal is perhaps harmless, for it is in fact disregarded there by scientists. But… it exercises a destructive influence in biology, psychology, and sociology, and falsifies our whole outlook far beyond the domain of science.” Far beyond – even into the domain of theology. “Don’t talk about love,” I once heard a priest say; “leave that to the Franciscans. Let your motto be Truth!” What kind of truth do you get when you leave out love? Objective? Hardly that. In fact hardly anything. It is just a naïve belief, Polanyi wrote, that “true knowledge is impersonal, universally established, objective.”
The objective view of sheep is mutton. God help the parishioners whose pastor has an ‘objective’ view of them! St Paul’s ideal was different: “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). It carries an echo of the intimate knowledge between the Father and the Son.