After many years of not attending Mass and even claiming not to believe in God, a man had a powerful experience of Jesus’ presence in his life. Moved by an overwhelming sense that he was known and loved by God, he fell to his knees, gave his heart to Jesus and asked to be transformed by His love.
The experience did in fact change him radically. Because of everything that had happened to him, he could not keep the story to himself but shared it with anyone who would listen. He always ended by asking the person to do what he did - fall to his knees and give his heart to Jesus.
One of his neighbors who was an atheist was troubled by the change he had seen in his old friend. He could not understand what had gotten over him. So, one afternoon, he called out to him from over his fence and asked him to talk to him. He said to his neighbor, “For the past few weeks all you have been talking about is Jesus and how much he has done for you. I bet you don’t even know the first thing about Jesus.”
He was surprised by what his neighbor said and asked him, “What do you mean?”
“Well,” he answered, “can you tell me on what day He was born, what color His eyes were or how tall He was?”
The man thought about it for a minute and said, “Well, no I can’t.”
The neighbor then laughed and replied, “See, you don’t know anything about Jesus so you should stop talking about Him.”
Looking down on the ground for a while, the man straightened himself up and said to his neighbor, “You may be right. There may be much about Jesus that I do not know. But I do know this. When I used to come home from work, my children would hide from me out of fear. Now they run to my car to welcome me. In almost twenty years of marriage, my wife never smiled. Now she fills our house with joy and laughter. Before, I was miserable and now I am happy. Before knowing Jesus, I was as good as dead. But now I am full of life.”
Many of us know people who, as this man described himself, are as “good as dead.” Their bodies might still be alive but their spirits are dead. They are miserable, always complaining and unable to see the good in anything. They are not enjoying life but are simply going through the motions. Rather than living, they are merely existing. We all know people like this. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we may have to admit that we have been like that ourselves.
But everything changes when we come to know Jesus. The knowledge of Jesus that gives us new life is not the kind that the neighbor in the story thought was important. It is not the details of his life such as when He was born, how tall He was or what color His eyes were. Those facts might be interesting but they are not really important. The knowledge that gives us life is, rather, the knowledge that Jesus loves us just as we are. It is the knowledge that He holds out His hand in friendship to us. It is the knowledge that, if we entrust our lives into His hands, He has the power to transform us as He did the man in our story.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us that He is the Good Shepherd who has come “so that [we] might have life and have it more abundantly.
How does Jesus give us a new and more abundant life? Our readings give us a clue.
First of all, as the responsorial psalm teaches us, that “He guides [us] in right paths for his name’s sake.” When we give our lives to Jesus, we allow Him to lead us. We give up control and let Him set the course which we are to travel. When we find the courage to do so we experience great relief and freedom. No longer do we wonder which path we are to follow or if the way we are on is the right one for us. We are not bound by the anxiety of wondering where the road will ultimately lead us. Rather we set our feet on the way which Jesus has already marked out for us by His word. In following His commandments, we know that we are on a path that is secure and that will lead us to eternal happiness. This gives meaning, purpose and direction to our lives and keeps us from merely going through the motions or choosing the path of least resistance.
Secondly, Jesus gives us new life by feeding us. Again, the responsorial psalm tells us that God leads us to “verdant pastures”, refreshing our souls “beside restful waters” and that He “spread[s] the table before [us].” What can all this imagery be pointing us to if not the Eucharist? Whenever we receive communion, we are being nourished by the very Body and Blood of Jesus. His love comes flooding into our hearts, reviving our drooping spirit, strengthening our resolve to do good and convincing us that we are cared for and nurtured by our Heavenly Father. Jesus promised that everyone who eats His flesh and drinks His blood will have eternal life. That promise is not only meant for the after-life but it is a reality that we can already experience today by the joy which floods our hearts, by the love we experience for our neighbor and by the peace of knowing that our lives are in the hands of a merciful and loving God.
We all experience times when we have had enough, when we are at the end of our rope, when we felt as though we could go no further. We have all had moments when love, joy and peace seemed far from us. It is at those times that we can turn to Jesus. If we commit ourselves to living in accordance with His commandments and if we take advantage of the nourishment He provides us in the sacraments, then we will experience for ourselves the abundant life He came to bring us. Not only that, but we will not be able to keep it to ourselves. Rather we will want to share it with others.
It is all ours for the asking. We merely need to approach Jesus, our Good Shepherd, and allow Him to lead us to the restful waters and verdant pastures He has prepared for us.