“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
Yesterday was “Good Shepherd Sunday” in the Catholic Church, and this verse was part of the Gospel reading for the day. Jesus here says, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me“. So it’s interesting to consider how well we – Jesus’ “flock” – actually hear him, and what might interfere with us hearing his voice.
There are a lot of “voices” out there in the world which can compete with the Shepherd’s voice. There are voices of commercialism calling us to continually acquire more “stuff”, stuff that falsely promises to bring happiness if only we’ll buy it.
There are voices of comparison with others, voices which tell us how we’re lacking; messages which create dissatisfaction with our lives. This propels us into preoccupation with what others think of us, and feeds all sorts of anxious attempts to repair our wounded sense of well-being.
There are voices of fear about the future that keep whispering “what ifs” to us, causing us such distress that we can’t really hear anything else because of the stranglehold of anxiety. These and other distractions drown out the Shepherd’s voice just like white noise.
There are other reasons we don’t hear that Voice as well as “good sheep” should, reasons which are within us.
Sometimes we just don’t want to hear, for if we hear, we know that Jesus’ speaking is precisely so that we will “follow” him by obeying him. And if our perverse, rebellious natures just don’t want to obey, we may simply block out his words to us altogether for a time, or at least until we’re ready to repent, turn around and begin following him once again. We may deliberately choose to listen to the other voices around us; just not his voice.
And sometimes – often, perhaps – we don’t hear the Shepherd because we’ve already made up our minds about what He will say, what we want to hear, and so we’re quite deaf to anything that might not be consistent with our preconceived ideas. We’re selectively deaf in our willfulness and presumption.
Sometimes we worry that we won’t get it right, that we’ll not be able to hear what Jesus is saying to us. Be assured that if we actually want to hear, God’s voice is fully able to communicate in such a way to each of us that eventually we will be able to discern what we are to “hear”. We may at times be a bit confused, or have to wait. But God is always pleased with our desire to obey him, and so he will continue to speak until all is clear.
In addition, if we don’t get it exactly right, God’s great mercy is such that he corrects us gently: “thy rod and thy staff comfort me” (Psalm 23!). Comfort (from the Latin root for “to make strong”) comes because the best of all possible Shepherds is keeping watch over us, leading us, always accompanying us. He gives his life for his sheep; what more could he do? He knows his sheep, and he is waiting for us to follow his voice so that we might come at last to the sheepfold of Heaven, safe with the One who has traveled with us all along the way.