No Faceless Crowd Before Jesus
When we read, study, and pray with the Gospels it is important for us to remember who is the audience that Jesus is speaking to. I mention this scriptural tool in many of my homilies and talks I give, and recently a question came to me and this tool “How does Jesus see the crowds of people he speaks to?” I think that this is an important question. God may be a stranger to us, but we are no stranger to God. What do I mean? Look at His message to Jeremiah 1: 5a “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Then there is His message to Isaiah 43:1b “[…] I have called you by name: you are mine.” Finally, there are the words of Jesus “[…] you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31)” words from Jesus that point out each person’s infinite worth to God. In general, when I speak to a group I tend to lose sight of individual persons and the crowd becomes faceless to me. The faceless crowd syndrome may also be an issue for many other people, but I do not think this was an issue for Jesus. A general theme within the bible is the closeness of God to his people, and the desire that God wants to form a relationship with us. Being that Jesus is fully God and fully man, I think He coveys that desire for divine intimacy with crowds of people that came to listen to him. With the crowds of people that formed around Jesus, I believe He did not see a faceless hoard but saw each person within the crowd as a person called by name, who was known by God before he or she was formed in the womb. Reflecting upon how Jesus saw the crowds, will help us to become open to the gaze of intimacy that he continues to offer all of us, just as he did for the people during his earthly ministry before his death and resurrection.
The Shepherd Sees You
The pinnacle manifestation of Jesus’s intimate gaze upon a person is seen through Gospel of John “The Shepherd opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice (John 10: 3-4).” Sheep are animals that naturally flock together. They stay together for strength and security. When one sheep sees a danger, it can warn another. Yet, even among the flock, animals do not lose their personality, they all may look alike, but when one becomes familiar with a sheep, its personality will always mark it as distinct from the others. The problem is this that even though sheep tend to flock together when one strays away the others will not stop it, that is why a shepherd is necessary because a shepherd is a glue that binds the herd together. Christ, in his message about being the Good Shepherd, is telling us through analogy that he knows all of his sheep. Not in a merely superficial way, but in an intimate way that pierces the surface, that is why the Good Shepherd can tell one of his sheep are missing.
Being a Lost Sheep
Christ feels the void, left by a lost sheep that has wandered off. How can the Good Shepherd find the lost shepherd, because He understands by which way the sheep took, to become lost? The eyes of the shepherd are ones that can see the flock, and not become lost in their numbers, but see in a way where every single one is standing out as if it was the only one to catch his gaze. Within the shepherd’s flock, the missing beauty of the lost sheep is felt, even if the rest of the sheep do not notice one of their own is missing. The shepherd feels the absent beauty of his sheep and seeks it out, so that the beauty of the flock may be restored, and brought to completion once again. As the Psalms tell us “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well (Psalm 139: 14)” A message reaffirmed by St. Paul “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Ephesians 2:10).” Each sheep shines for with a beauty that the Good Shepherd can and will always perceive. Even though the beauty of one sheep may only be perceived by its Shepherd, it is still known, loved, and cherished within His Heart.
The Shepherd Meets His Sheep
Through the Gospel, Jesus is shown several times calling out to one of his lost sheep to aid and strengthen the flock through their witness.
The Faith of a Sheep Matthew 9: 20-22
“If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well (Matthew 9:20).” Even though she was forced out of her flock, because of illness. The silent words of the woman with a hemorrhage echo forth with a cry of faith that has been heard for over 2,000 years. Within the passage her voice does not waiver an inch, she believes Jesus can heal her, whether he acknowledges her or not. Yet, we do know that Jesus sees her and affirms within her, that it is was her faith that made her well. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, on a mission to save a child’s life, still takes the time to accept the faith of one of His lost sheep. Showing and telling all of us, that if we only had faith like that woman, we can be made open to the healing presence of our Good Shepherd, who always takes the time to reach out to us.
A Hope-Filled Cry Mark 10: 46
We move from a silent faithful sheep to a sheep that screams out in hope. Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, pushed out of the flock to make room for the Shepherd, screams out with the ancient plea that has rested within the hearts of his people “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Within the hopeful plea of Bartimaeus, one can hear the ancient promise put forward by the Prophet Ezekiel “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23).” The Shepherd, who the chosen people have long waited for, is now present before Bartimaeus and even though his eyes cannot see Jesus, his heart knows who He is. The hope of Bartimaeus gives him the courage to cry out in need to his shepherd, and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, always hears the cries of his sheep. May our hope give us the strength to cry out to Jesus in our times of need, and not rely on our own gifts to save us.
The Transformative Gaze of Love Luke 19: 1-10
What good are faith and hope if they are not inflamed with the fire of love. Zacchaeus was a curious man, interested in learning who Jesus was. Shunned by his flock for being a tax collector. He embraced his separateness from the flock and climbed a tree to see a man who his heart yearned to meet. Upon waiting in a tree to see merely a glimpse of this man called Jesus, the eyes of His shepherd rested upon him in that tree. The eyes of Jesus conveyed a love for Zacchaeus that he had never experienced before in his life. Upon hearing the words from his shepherd that he seeks to stay in his house. The heart of Zacchaeus, which was once closed off because of shame and greed, is now a heart that pours forth with love of his shepherd. The Master’s little sheep now knows it is loved and wishes to go forth and share that loved that has transformed his whole life. A transformation that took only the amount of time necessary for one person to look upon another. Image if we allowed ourselves to meet the gaze of Jesus, what transformation would happen in us.
Ministering with the Good Shepherd
All three-sheep cast out of the flock for one reason or another finds Jesus in their midst. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, could see through the crowds and find the lost sheep and bring them back into his fold. However, this work of the Good Shepherd, to bring his sheep back into the flock, did not end with Jesus.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:36-38).”
Jesus, in his ministry to all crowds and cities, spoke out to his disciples telling them that his laborers must continue his work. There will be sheep that are harassed and helpless, and they will continue to need a shepherd, and the disciples who are with Jesus, will need to make sure that the lost sheep will be brought to Him, not just in that time, but for all time, until he calls the sheep to be home with him for all eternity (Matthew 25: 31-46). To continue this work of Jesus, we will need to become like Jesus, so the lost sheep will hear his voice, when we speak to them, see his eyes when we look upon them, and sense his love when we open our hearts to them. For as St. Teresa of Avila wrote:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Having the Eyes of Jesus
For the Good Shepherd has not abandoned his sheep, he has entrusted us to make himself known, as the pasture is prepared for us. So, like our Good Shepherd, we cannot see a faceless flock of people before us. We must begin to see like Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who even among the great flocks, could pick out the weakest of sheep and care for them with His mercy. How do we gain these eyes of the Good Shepherd? We need to pray that Christ grants us the eyes to look upon each person as a beautiful work the Father has sent into the world. As Christ has looked upon us with his compassionate eyes, even though we were once buried in the filth of our sins, we need to look upon others with those same eyes of compassion. So, our fellow brothers and sisters may now that the eyes of her or his loving shepherd are always upon them no matter how separated he or she may be from His flock. Love always makes the face of a person visible to our eyes.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34-35