Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C.
Sometimes it feels like no one really knows you. I’m sure all of us, young and old alike, have felt that way at some point in our life. It’s easy in junior high and high school to feel that no one really knows you. Even if your popular—perhaps especially if your popular—it’s easy to hide behind a mask and to pretend that you’re someone you’re not. Some of you who are seniors in high school are preparing for college in the fall. And if your going to a big place like UW-Madison, you will likely feel, at some point, that you are lost amidst the vast sea of undergraduates, and that no one really knows you. Even if a lot of your friends from high school are going with you, the feeling will still eventually come.
Some of you who are older, and are now married, probably feel that no one really knows you, not even your spouse. Perhaps you knew each other at some point, but you have now grown apart. As you get older, you can also come to the startling realization that you don’t even know yourself. There’s part of yourself that you didn’t know was there or that you deliberately ignored and then suddenly, there it is, staring you in the face. And if it turns out that not even you know yourself, how can anyone else be expected to know you?
None of us wants to feel this way—that no one really knows us—but it almost seems inevitable that we will at some point. And when that time comes, we want to get rid of that feeling as quick as possible. In light of this, it’s easy to see why one of the most terrifying possibilities, a possibility which all of us must take seriously, is that Jesus may say to us, at the end of our life, “I never knew you.” If we don’t think that Jesus could ever say that to us, consider these words from Matthew Chapter 7:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’”Matthew 7:21-23
As terrifying as it is to imagine Jesus saying these words to us, it’s equally difficult to imagine how Jesus, being the all-knowing Son of God, could possibly say that He never knew us. How is it possible for God to know everything, but not know us?
The answer is in the distinction between knowing about someone, and really knowing them. To know about someone, we don’t need to know them personally. We don’t need to have met them or to have any sort of relationship with them. This is especially obvious with the advent of social media; all sorts of personal details about someone, even intimate details about what they are thinking are feeling, are available to us. But even if we know all this about someone, we still don’t really know them. To really know someone requires having a relationship with them. To know about someone only requires one person; to really know someone requires two.
That’s why it’s possible for an all-knowing God to say to us, at the end of our life, “I never knew you.” God can, and does, know everything about us. And even if we can’t know everything about God, we can still know a great deal. But to really know God, we have to have a relationship with Him. And a relationship requires two people. We can prevent God from ever really knowing us by refusing to have a relationship with Him, or by being indifferent about having a relationship with Him.
This is one of the reasons why we pray. Sometimes people ask what the point of praying is because God knows everything and knows what we want to say to Him. And that’s true: God does know everything about us. But the point of prayer is not for God to know more about us. The point of prayer is for God to know us, and for us to know Him, by having a relationship with Him. If we never pray to God, if we never share our thoughts, feelings, and desires with Him, then we prevent God from ever truly knowing us, and we prevent ourselves from ever truly knowing Him. And this is not a limit on God’s power. God can’t know us without our having a relationship with Him any more than He can make a square circle. It’s just not possible. It’s the nature of a circle to be circular; it’s the nature of really knowing someone to have a relationship with them.
“I am the good shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep, and mine know me.” “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” Jesus wants to know us, and He wants us to know Him. And He wants this, because this is what we were made for: to know and be known by God. Not to have a relationship with God, not to truly know Him or be known by Him, is not to have attained our true purpose in life.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, let us recommit ourselves to knowing the Shepherd—and not just knowing about Him, but really knowing Him. Let’s recommit ourselves to daily prayer, especially with Scripture. We do not want to come to the end of our life and discover that Jesus never knew us, that we were never truly part of His flock. And if we recommit ourselves to this, we will discover that even if no one else really knows us, even if we don’t really know ourselves, there is someone who does: someone who knows us, who loves us, and who wants to be with us forever. Amen.