In the statements beginning, “I am. . . ,” Jesus does not so much name himself as imagine himself. In doing so, he gathers us in, takes us along; sometimes implicitly, sometimes by name. He takes us far, farther perhaps than we would be willing to on our own, far into nature, into the unknown.
Let us call it a Zen voyage, perilous, exhilarating, ironic. What would it be like, he implies, to live in a shepherd’s skin, (or more properly) in the skin of “the Good Shepherd”? What would be the actions of such a good pastor? What would be the outcome of tenderness and solicitude when our charges are not sheep but children, the innocent, the victimized, the noncombatants, women, the aged, the refugees – from El Salvador and Bosnia to Nicaragua and Guatemala to Afghanistan and Iraq – all the endangered? What would it be like to be “the branches of a vine” – when the weathers of the world are as they are, sharp, unpromising, assaulting? What would it be like to be a light, when darkness covers the Earth?