“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” John 10:27-30
While I was away on vacation, waiting for the bus a herd of sheep came nearby to graze in the fields, oblivious to the fact that I was there. Finding some grass here or there never looking up to see where they were or where the shepherd was, they just kept their heads down and moving to where they could find more grass. While this was happening I was watching the shepherd – yes he had a staff in his hand, and was just standing by the road. Whenever a sheep would wander to close to the road, the shepherd would make a noise, and the sheep would go back to the pack. If the sheep was really insistent, the shepherd would use the stick to guide the sheep back.
You know why the shepherd carries the staff with a hook on the end? Because sheep all to often will eat themselves right over a cliff. Sounds pretty dumb, right? But it’s true, sheep will walk right over a cliff and will need to be caught by the shepherd. If a sheep is found wandering too much, the shepherd is taught to break the hind legs of the sheep, and then carries the sheep back to the rest of the herd on his own back. This is the image of the good shepherd, and indeed this is the image Jesus uses with us.
The image of the shepherd is key for this sunday’s readings, on Good Shepherd Sunday. The shepherd always stood between the sheep and the dangerous obstacle, and was always attentive to the one that put itself in the most immanent danger. This is what the Lord does for us. We celebrate today, Jesus, who shepherds us, who keeps us from falling into danger, who calls us when we are about to stray. Bishop Fulton Sheen said that God whispers in our joys, speaks in our conscience, and Shouts to us in our pain. God whispers to us in our joys, speaks in our conscience, and shouts in our pain. I write it twice because it should give us pause. On Good Shepherd Sunday we are filled with the blessed assurance that God has first called us, you and I, by name. In doing so, He offered us the assurance that we can never be out of reach, so long as we allow ourselves to be His. That even in weakness when we find we are lost and have nowhere else to turn, we hear His voice, calling us back to where we belong.
My friends, listening to Jesus is the surest hope that we can be free from a lot of confusion and brokenness in our lives. Hearing Him speak to you and I on a regular basis will keep us on track with greater ease. If we wait to turn to God when our lives are in chaos or when we are without all hope, we will be like the sheep who must be carried back. Sometimes we can get so far off the road that Jesus actually has to intervene, and carry us back to the fold on His own back with our legs broken so that we won’t run away again. You see, in the most trying times of our lives, when we feel the most alone or the most far away from God, it is likely that those are the moments when we are about to be carried by God back to where we should be. Following in the image of the shepherd, that experience can be painful – but we know that the pain can be healed, and the lesson can be learned. The good news and our hope is that Jesus will not let us just walk over the cliff, will not us simply fester in our sin. He will come, look for us, and carry us Himself so that we may be healed.
Have you ever heard the voice of Jesus in your life? Do you know what He sounds like? Have you heard Him in the silence of your heart, listened to His direction or felt the presence of God knock on your heart? In the world today, when we can be overwhelmed by the volume of “stuff” we take into our senses, its really a wonder we can hear anything God wants to say at all. Jesus’ words most often come in silence. To be ruled by God, to give Jesus permission over your life and mine, means to let Him enter in. It is all well and good to say, “I believe” but if we never take a moment to speak with Him in prayer, to sit with Him in silence, what good does our faith do for us? If we are willing to take the effort to call ourselves Christian, then why doesn’t He have the prime place in our lives? Why does the TV, radio, Internet take up so much of our day? If we do not let Him speak to us, how can we ever hope to listen?
So I challenge you – I challenge myself – to be more attentive to the voice of Jesus. Come to know it so well that even hearing Him whisper moves our heart to conversion. Let us always stay within an ear’s reach of Him, that we may be guided by Him, so that even if we wander, or lose sight of Him, His voice can bring us back!