“We love only that which is beautiful.” ~ Augustine
Freedom has a price, but does love? How much does love cost? Jesus was sold for 30 pieces of silver. Joseph, in the book of Genesis, was sold into slavery by his brothers. And Orpheus had to make a bargain with death in order to save his beloved Eurydice.
Human love is often a mercenary love. Love can become a kind of merchandise, a commodity, a gaming table where we bet with the coins of our life. We take risks, and often things turn out badly. We sell ourselves simply to get a little attention.
A mercenary love can never be trusted. The mercenary is always ready to run away when his payment no longer satisfies him. The mercenary escapes when the enemy seems too menacing. When the wolves cross the plains of a relationship, the mercenary will always flee.
As it happens in our relationships, if our love can be bought and sold, we will leave as soon as we feel that we are no longer getting a good deal, when the risk is greater than the reward, when it’s no longer profitable.
But sometimes you find someone who, like Jesus, loves with the love of a shepherd, like one who is bound to his land, one who stays even when everything seems hopeless, like the men of the ancient novels of Stilo: they don’t ask if it’s worth it, they stay and that’s that.
The shepherd is a man that lives for someone else. He is ready to give his life without asking questions. His life is to care for others. The shepherd always thinks in terms of what’s best for the flock.
The Gospel of John speaks of an open pen, a space that does not stifle freedom, a space that protects but does not imprison. And this is the truest symbol of love. This is the love that we experience with Jesus.
A person that loves in this way is beautiful and draws others towards him or herself. Perhaps this is why John speaks, according to some translations, not only of the Good Shepherd but also of the Beautiful Shepherd, alluding to the beauty of the love with which he cares for his flock.
When one loves in this way there is no need to hide. The mercenary disguises himself and pretends to give his heart because he must hide his true intentions. The shepherd shows who he truly is. His power is in his voice. It’s not so much about the words he uses or what he says; it’s about his voice: he is characterized by his tone. Love recognizes the footsteps of the beloved, its scent, it feels its presence and silences its heart. We love when we listen to the voice of another, even when the words are no longer there.
True love, that of the shepherd, can never be an obligation. In this passage, Jesus says, “I give my life.” Love gives itself, not for a price, but for the beauty inherent in giving. True love is a choice, not an obligation. The mercenary is driven by a need, the shepherd by a desire.
Questions for personal reflection:
- Do you think you love other more like a shepherd or like a mercenary?
- How do you feel about your relationship with the Lord?
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John (10:11-18)
Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.”
The Gospel of the Lord
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