Imagine a large elephant with six blind men examining, by touch, this large mammal which none of them can see in its entirety. One is feeling the trunk. A second is feeling a leg, Another is feeling the underbelly. A fourth is feeling the tail and the fifth is feeling the tusk while a sixth examines an ear. When these six blind men sit down together to discuss what they have just examined by touch, there will be six different and incomplete descriptions of something we know fairly well because we have seen one. The analogy is simple.
Like the blind men, none of us has seen God so none of us can give a complete and accurate description of Him. His existence and nature is beyond our limited and blind human comprehension. Jesus gives us limited views using stories we can understand from everyday experiences. We know God best through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection but many of His parables describe other aspects of our invisible God. The man who forgives debts, the Good Samaritan, the rich man and Lazarus and the Final Judgement are some of the pieces to a puzzle we try to assemble in our minds to better understand our invisible God and His concern for us.
Today, Jesus gives us the Good Shepherd, perhaps the most memorable of all His analogies because of its simplicity and sensitivity. Even though most of us have never tended sheep, we can identify with these dumb animals trying to make their way in a harsh world. We’d like to think we can make it on our own but we often go astray. Our weaknesses and battles with the seven deadly sins of greed, envy, anger, lust, pride, gluttony and sloth often lead us to search out the greener grass beyond the fence when, in reality, the lush and green pastures promised in Psalm 23 are a metaphor for the eternal salvation found only in the Kingdom of God. This is the ultimate green pasture beside restful waters to which Jesus, our Good Shepherd, wants to lead us. As St. Stephen points out in our first reading, He is the only Good Shepherd and He alone cares for us to the point of ultimately being willing to lay down His life for us!
All of this is part of the grandiose collection of revelations by Jesus about our invisible God. He told Philip, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9), to indicate His unity with the Holy Trinity but Jesus’ human form, even His glorified resurrected body, are limited views. Only when we shed our physical forms will we see Him as He is.