A colorful illustration with bright brushstrokes and line drawings depicting faces, a heart, and a shepherd carrying a sheep on their back

The Holy Impulse to Love

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” — John 10:11

A Look Ahead to Sunday’s Readings

“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says in Sunday’s Gospel reading, “I know my own and my own know me.” It’s one of his seven I am statements in John’s Gospel, and it tells us as much about who we are as about the nature of God.

Like a shepherd with their sheep, God’s love for us is not distant or impersonal; rather, it’s birthed in the everyday intimacy of relationship. As God knows us, we know God, “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,” Jesus says. In other words, we and God are as intertwined as the Holy Trinity — Father, Son, and Spirit. And it’s in this mysterious, mutual knowing we find not only ourselves, but the freedom to love others as God loves us.

There’s a fearlessness that comes from being known. Like sheep under the watch of the good shepherd, we cannot wander from God’s love. And we’re not in it alone: We’ve got each other. The wideness and depth of this communion with God and one another emboldens us to love recklessly, laying down our lives with abandon. “No one takes [my life] from me,” Jesus says, “but I lay it down of my own accord.” Like Jesus, we lay down our lives not out of guilt or shame or obligation, but out of love.

When love is truly sacrificial, it’s no sacrifice at all. Like children, we act without self-awareness, loving one another because it’s who we are, because we’ve been loved first. In letting go of fear and shame in the safety of relationship, we’re freed to follow the holy impulses that lead us to deeper connection and wholeness — that make us more alive.

Jesus says it this way: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” In loving freely, uninhibitedly, and without agenda, we are not losing ourselves but again and again finding ourselves. And each time we find ourselves and then live into the fullness of who are, we become part of God’s healing work in the world. We embody resurrection.

Read all of Sunday’s scriptures.

Here are five ways to think about what it means to be known by God:

Poetry In her masterpiece “Wild Geese,” poet Mary Oliver writes, “You do not have to be good . . . You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” And when we give in to this freeing love, we find our place in “the family of things.”

TheologyEvery Christian is called to be a shepherd,” writes the Rev. Dr. Alyce M. McKenzie, contributor at religion blog Patheos. “We are not all called to dramatic situations in which our physical lives are on the line, but there is the less dramatic, daily sacrifice involved in allowing the Good Shepherd to guide the way we offer guidance and nurture to those we encounter each day.”

Scripture Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” might be the most well-known psalm in the Bible. Try reading this familiar passage through the lens of intimate love.

Documentary Filmmaker Christian Cargill presents a loving portrait of a Welsh shepherd in this moving and meditative piece from The New Yorker.

Social Justice While we can and must participate in God’s healing of the world, it’s important to remember God’s salvation doesn’t depend on our “clumsy efforts,” writes author Debie Thomas. “We are not in charge of Easter; God is.”

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