You and I were not designed to live alone. When God created the very first human being, He said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Ge 2:18). And it's not! He placed within each one of us the need to be part of a community of people. That's where we are happiest. That's where we are the most productive. And that's where we are subjected to refining fires that burn away many of the impurities in our attitudes. That's where God trains us to cooperate with others. It's in community that we learn to be patient, kind and generous. It's in community that we learn to put away bitterness and truly love. When we're alone too much, thinking only our own thoughts, hearing only our own voice, forming attitudes that are allowed to go unchallenged, our personality turns sour. We grow increasingly selfish.
Now no one who has actually tried it says living in community is easy. It always brings friction. People are forced to live with people who are different, and our “flesh” does not want to be with people who are different. We clash with them; our feelings get hurt, and we hurt the feelings of others. And every time that happens we are faced with two options: either we withdraw and end that relationship, or we take very uncomfortable steps to restore it. The process is almost always emotionally draining. It exposes our own failures and requires us to apologize. It forces us to wrestle into submission the desire to punish those who've hurt us. Yet those who courageously overcome these obstacles rather than try to escape them, those who learn to set aside their own needs in order to care for the needs of others, those who fight to preserve a relationship rather than fight to win the argument, end up surprisingly happy, at peace with themselves and others.
We've all met such people. Maybe you are one. They're covered with “scars” from past battles, but somehow those battles left them stronger, not weaker, more flexible. They aren't easily offended, and people love to be around them. What's their secret? Before we answer that question let's eliminate one myth: It isn't that they were born with a nice personality. They may have been, but life on this planet can turn anyone mean. Their secret is that they chose to pay the price to stay in relationship; they refused to escape the friction of living with people who are different.
Today we will hear Jesus, the Good Shepherd, declare that it is His plan to bring together people who are very different, from all over the world, and to teach them how to become one. That means this Shepherd's sheep must learn to live together harmoniously. There will be only one flock with one Shepherd.
Whether we realize it or not, His commitment to teach us to love each other is one of the greatest promises He has given us. Thankfully He is determined to restore the human relationships that our sin has ruined. Beginning the moment we meet Him and carrying on into eternity, He draws us back into God's original plan: a loving family, a joyful community.