Fourth Sunday of Easter: Knowing the Shepherd’s Voice
The voice of the Shepherd is at the heart of the Church. On this Sunday the whole Church prays that all men and women will be receptive to His voice. We pray that those whom He calls to religious life, the priesthood and married life will be able to respond to that call. But we must not forget that the voice of the Shepherd speaks to each and every baptized person, calling each of us to live a life that look towards God. Moreover, we are called to enable each other in finding our particular path and sticking to it.
No two people will follow the exact same path and yet all the paths along which He leads will open to green pastures, for this is why He came. “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” There are no dead ends, if they are listening to His voice and following Him.
A learned pastor once said say that “the Lord is a poor fighter in a crowd”. How indeed true are these words. To recognize His voice then is crucial for us because we live in a world where there are too many voices. Jesus says that His sheep know His voice. It is worth pondering what it is to recognize or know His voice. The word Jesus uses has its root in the act of seeing or beholding.
The Gospel of John is full of people who claim to recognize or know a great many things but who do not recognize or know Jesus. This verb Jesus uses here occurs no less than 71 times in the John’s Gospel. Interestingly, it is used 8 times in the passage just before this one. It is the account of the man who was born blind and whose eyes were opened by Jesus. In that account the disciples seek to know why he was born blind, the Pharisees seek to know how he was cured, the man’s parents claim not to know, and then the Pharisees claim to know a lot about Jesus. At the centre of it all is the man who only knows what he has experienced. He is pushed around and eventually cast out by the Pharisees, only to be found again by Jesus. Just before Jesus begins to speaks the words of today’s gospel passage, He pronounces the Pharisees to be blind and it is the man who was born blind and who did not claim to know anything, who comes to recognize or know the voice of the Shepherd. The blindness of the Pharisees to Jesus is built out of their imperfect claims to recognize or know.
When Jesus says He is the door of the sheepfold, He means that it is He who brings us into His flock, but more than this, it is also He who shepherds us. In the world from which the gospels come, the sheep depended on the shepherd for water, pasture, and for safety from wolves, thieves, and brigands. The sheep had to trust the shepherd and nobody else. It is in this intimate relationship of trust that a pattern of call and response grows and deepens. They know his voice. He knows each of them by name. He is their door or the gate. He is their way in. It is important that we recognize or know what He is doing in us when we enter through His door in baptism.
Saint Peter tells us in the first reading to “repent and be baptized”. He is reminding us of the constant need to be stripping away all false pretences, and to let go of those things that the world and the devil wants us to recognize or know. Our Lord wants us to place our trust in Him. It is the kind of trust the sheep has when it follows the shepherd’s voice. In baptism, we put on Christ, and although most of us do not remember our baptism, it was the moment when the spiritual center of gravity shifted to Christ by becoming a member of His flock.
During these weeks of Eastertide, let us pray that the baptismal vows, which we annually renew every Easter, may come alive in us. May the water we bless ourselves on entering and leaving the church remind us that we have been baptized into Christ. May we be every more attentive to the Voice of the Shepherd. May His words grow more deeply, opening our hearts to the fullness of which we have received, so that we may be found by Him, not gone astray, but where He wants us to be.