This weeks’ readings are John 10:11-18 and “The Great Work of Life and Death.”
John 10:11-18 (REB)
I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired man, when he sees the wolf coming, abandons the sheep and runs away, because he is not the shepherd and the sheep are not his. Then the wolf harries the flock and scatters the sheep. The man runs away because he is a hired man and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. But there are other sheep of mine, not belonging to this fold; I must lead them as well, and they too will listen to my voice. There will then be one flock, one shepherd. The Father loves me because I lay down my life, to receive it back again. No one takes it away from me; I am laying it down of my own free will. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to receive it back again; this charge I have received from my Father.
“The Great Work of Life and Death” (from The Whole World Is A Single Flower)
Carrying rice paper and brush, Yong Um Sunim entered Zen Master Man Gong’s room and said, “Master, please write down one sentence.” Man Gong took the brush and wrote, ‘This is the realm of finishing the great work of life and death: At midnight on the mountain peak the monkey’s cry is very noisy.’ Yong Um thanked Man Gong and kept this sentence his whole life. Later, Zen Master Kum Bong read the sentence and said, “Zen Master Man Gong’s keen eyes and bone marrow are in this sentence.”
1. What is “the realm of finishing the great work of life and death”?
2. “At midnight on the mountain peak the monkey’s cry is very noisy.” What does this mean?
3. What are Man Gong’s keen eyes and bone marrow?
COMMENTARY: Speech and words are free. Action is a hindrance. So your mouth and body must have a good friendship.
The Gospel of John is nothing if not cosmic about the nature of Jesus Christ. From the opening of the book, when “He was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be; without him no created thing came into being” (John 1:2-3 REB) to Jesus proclaiming “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5a REB) to this week’s passage about the good shepherd, John identifies Jesus in different and profound ways. It is difficult for me to understand how a peasant from ancient Israel could be the creator of all things, or how we are all branches of his living vine. How does someone like me, formed by and accepting of a contemporary, scientific world view, work with the cosmic Christ? What does it mean that all things came into being through Christ, when we also know that there are 300 billion stars in our galaxy alone, and that the observable universe (yes, observable, there’s more after that) has 100 billion galaxies? Jesus was a carpenter, but did he really build that much?
Increasingly for me part of the Christian walk is to encounter the mystery of creation which is before my eyes. In addition to following Jesus on the path of justice and compassion is a genuine encounter with this cosmic Christ. Along with my rational and scientific understanding (which, I believe, is the mythology of our own day), I encounter the mystery on its own terms in my own life. Jesus of Nazareth is also Jesus the Christ, the good shepherd. This Christ, the same as Jesus yet completely different, cares as much for me in this moment as all the suns in all the galaxies in the entire universe. I am part of the flock which includes every cricket, every newt, every amoeba, every comet and, of course, every human being. Christ is my shepherd in this moment, even as Christ is shepherding new stars in billions of galaxies many millions of light years distant.
How do I see Christ? I open my eyes and ears. Christ is here in this moment, right in front of me, if I dare to see or hear. This Christ is an experience, not a thought. Christ is/in my encounter with the sky before I start counting stars. Christ is/in sitting on the beach before I start counting grains of sand. Man Gong reminds me today the “realm of finishing the great work of life and death” or, as a Christian might say, “the realm of Christ the Good Shepherd,” is as common as a lone mountain at night with a monkey crying out. Christ the shepherd is in that moment, with that monkey, on that mountain. Christ is the mountain, and Christ is the cry of the monkey, and Christ is the monk hearing the monkey’s cry. If I were to ask Man Gong today to write me one sentence, he might write “the realm of finishing the great work of life and death is at the curbside with a barking dog.” Christ is there with me on the corner, in the barking itself before I even call it a bark.
The good Shepherd is right here, if I have eyes to see and ears to hear. Jesus the Christ is with me in this moment. Man Gong good-shepherd Sunim’s keen eyes and bone marrow sit before my eyes. Perhaps these questions can help me see them:
1. At midnight the Good Shepherd’s flock is very noisy. What does this mean?
2. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. Where is his realm?
3. Zen Master Man Gong is the Good Shepherd. What do his eyes look like?
4. Who is the Good Shepherd?