Always With Us by Rev. Richard Hasselbach, Ph.D
Ed Kelly is a brilliant lawyer and a charming man. We worked together as attorneys for the State University of New York and became fast friends. Ed went on to serve as Assistant to the President and Counsel at Eastern Tennessee State, a large university with a medical school and teaching hospital. Ed worked directly for the president of the university, who was a medical doctor.
One day at about 10:00 AM he blacked out in his office. His boss immediately sent him to the University hospital for a neurological evaluation. "Mr. Kelly," Ed remembers a physician telling him," you have a brain tumor, and we have to take it out immediately." "For the first time in my life," Ed told me, "I was faced with death." He went on, "I felt frightened and alone." Though Ed was not a particularly religious person, he prayed. It was a dark day!
Jesus was in the Temple during the Feast of Dedication. For Jesus and the Jews of his time, the Temple was the place where God dwelt with his people. Jesus is the embodiment of that presence: his body is the Temple par excellence, and the Temple prefigures him. John tells us (John 10) that it was winter: dark and cold. The season reveals the hearts of those now surrounding Jesus now to trap him. Though they are in the Temple, they do not recognize the presence of God right before their eyes: they are in spiritual darkness and have cold hearts.
"Tell us plainly," they ask him, "are you the Messiah?" They are trying to trap Jesus and build a case against him. "I have told you, but you don't believe me," he responds. "The works I do in my Father's name testify about me." Jesus has healed a child who was close to death, fed five thousand with nothing more than a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread, he has given sight to a man born blind: if they don't see the presence of God is these signs, they are blind. You "do not believe," he told them, because they are not "his sheep."
Belief in the Gospels does not mean accepting propositions as accurate, it means being in a relationship of love and trust. To believe in Jesus is to be his friend. Jesus says, "My sheep listen to my voice… they follow me." If we are to belong to the Good Shepherd, we must listen for his voice.
In our world there is so much noise, we have become addicted to it. We turn on the radio or the TV just to have noise around us; we are constantly bombarded by messages from Madison Avenue: buy this car, take this pill, go on that vacation and you will be happy. Voices are telling us that happiness, prosperity, and safety come from the things we buy or the people we elect, or the philosophies we espouse. Jesus says, "My sheep listen to me, not those other voices calling us on such alluring paths. The road to perdition," Jesus says elsewhere, "is wide and many follow it because they are deceived, but my sheep listen to the Shepherd's voice."
It is not enough to listen, though, having listened we must obey! "Obey" comes from the Latin ob audire: to hear. Christianity is not a religion of mere listeners. We are called to obey his call to follow him. As he emptied himself on the cross out of love for us, must we empty ourselves, of our egos, of our selfishness, of our petty wants and pride, and become a servant of all.
People in need of loving service are all around us: they're in our schools, our workplaces, neighborhoods, and churches; they wait on us in coffee shops and restaurants, we pass them on the streets, often without noticing. They are waiting for a word of love or a little kindness. Jesus calls us to love and serve them as he does: with life-giving, nourishing, and compassionate care.
Jesus "knows" his sheep. He knows you and me better than we know ourselves: he knows our divine destiny, the work the Father has given us, and only us, to do. He knows our hopes, dreams, and fears. He knows our sinfulness and mistakes, and he loves us just the way we are.
He gives us "eternal life!" We will all die, as the world understands death: when John wrote his gospel most of the first generation of Christians had died. Jesus gives life that the first death cannot touch and he gives it the moment we believe. We have it now; our bodily death is just another day as we pass from life to life.
Once we are in the Lord's hands, nothing can "snatch us away" from his hand or the Father's. In Paul's words: "neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35-36). This is because we are precious to the Lord: "What the Father has given me (his sheep) is greater than all else." Nothing, nothing will ever take his love from us because we are his and he's ours, and he and the Father are one. This is how much the Lord loves us, and it is also how he loves those around us. We should treat them as he does: as precious and beloved treasures.
In Hebrew, the word for "shepherd," (ra'ah) is etymologically connected to the word for "friend" (re' eh). The reason the psalmist can have no fear when traversing the valley of the shadow of death" is because he is not alone: the shepherd is with him, and his shepherd is his friend and savior (Psalm 23).
While waiting for his surgery, frightened and alone in his hospital room, Ed Kelly heard a voice. "it was as clear to me as your voice is now," Ed told me. "Ed," he heard, "I am with you, I have always been with you, and I will never leave you."