Do You Know His Voice?

shepherd-in-wildernessIt’s undeniable that Jesus often made reference to us as “his sheep”.

Just last week, Jesus instructed Peter to take care of his sheep, and today in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that his sheep know him, know his voice, and they follow.

There is something of course quite troubling about this if you think about it.

It is now common in the political world to refer to those on either side of the political spectrum who are, shall we say, passionate in their feelings, “sheeple”. It is not a compliment. It refers to people who are acting like sheep, blindly following without independent thought. Think Pied Piper of Hamlin and the rats jumping off the docks into the water and their deaths.

And indeed, as I am told by those who claim to know, it was common when a shepherd came into Jerusalem that he brought his flock of sheep to a common holding area. In those times, sheep were not marked in any way to define who belonged to who. Not only was the shepherd intimately familiar with his sheep, but the sheep “knew” the shepherd’s voice, and when he called, those that were his,  they, and only they, followed and separated themselves out again.

There is some comfort in this explanation, for we believe that Jesus indeed does KNOW us that intimately. As is said in the scriptures, God knows us down to the number of hairs upon our heads.

But are we blind followers, responding only to the superficial “voice”?

Skeptics and those who refer to themselves as atheists surely do account us as “sheeple”, blinding adhering to things that are fantastical and at times conflicting and brutal. They pepper us with isolated passages of biblical fare that present a God who is merciless, arbitrary, and cruel. How can you believe such things they say as they look on with disdain?

Worse they extract stories out of context and make jokes, taunting “do you read this to your child as a bedtime story? What kind of parent are you?”

They lay our faith down to being so fearful of the specter of death that we perpetuate a created sky God to save us.

It is both troubling and painful to be portrayed this way. In that sense, the sheep metaphor is particularly unwelcome  and uncomfortable.

Again I ask, are we dumb followers? Are we so terrified of death?

A bit of thought of course resets our compass. Of course we are not. Surely, if our goal was to comfort ourselves we could come up with a story that held together much better than this! We would not be confronted with the twists and conflicts, the contradictions and real errors that exist in the collection of writings that we lump together into a “book” and call scripture.

The charge of following dumbly can be laid at the foot of some believers it is true. Some do actually think of faith as the ability to believe in a set of precepts without any wavering or any deep thinking. The idea of doubt is to them akin to slapping God across the face!

But I think that true faith is full of doubt. That doubt drives us into deeper contemplation and study. It is that practice that deepens and broadens our faith into maturity, one that is ever ongoing.

Our lives are, so we think anyway, more complicated and busy than those of people before us. We are pulled and pushed by many forces. The cacophony of life threatens to drown us at times. As a retired person, I find my life so much busier than it used to be. I now have the choice of how to spend my time each day, and the calls to do “this” or “this” or “that” or “that” are nearly overwhelming.

Yet, in the chaos that is every life, we can, if we listen carefully, hear his voice.

We indeed do recognize HIS voice. And that voice causes us to pause, and recalculate who we are, where we are going, and what matters most. It is the beacon that draws us to the path once more, and guides us to listen to the voice as we interact with the world, basing our decisions and actions on principles that HE announced to us.

Like the sheep, we can cut our way through the herd of humanity that we find ourselves in, and maintain a steady course toward the way of living that we believe is both moral and efficacious for us as humans.

Rather than following out of fear, we follow out of hope, for ourselves and for humanity. We follow, believing that this way of life, with this shepherd lead to an expansion of our humanity individually and collectively. We are not sheeple. We have the keen awareness to discriminate between our shepherd and all the others calling to us.

Do you know his voice?

Calm at the Center of the Storm

One stop on the road to enlightenment, or so I’m told, is when we can be an internal witness to our thoughts, disengaged from them, simply watching them go by. We neither want them nor hold them. We are indifferent.

Something like that sometimes happens to me, usually in social situations. I feel disengaged from my body. I am fully aware, yet I see myself as witness to the conversations and activities surrounding me. I feel in a sense invisible, able to just watch the action.

I’ve been feeling that a lot these last couple of days as regards the mass readings leading up to the crucifixion. I can see in my mind’s eye that time of long ago, after Jesus had entered Jerusalem. The messengers running through the street to inform the Sanhedrin that “he is here.”  The flurry of meetings, discussions, and decisions.

The streets were awash with talk. “He is here.”

“Who?”

“You know, Jesus of Nazareth, the healer, the one some call the Messiah.”

“Where is he?”

“No one knows, he’s disappeared somewhere in the city.”

Arguments ensue between those who follow the Master and those who don’t. Rumors are rampant.

Depending on which story you attend to, Judas is going through a crisis of his own. Jesus has not turned out to be what Judas expected. There are whispers among the disciples, arguments even. Some were against this entry into the city, some were fearful. Others were simply confused. Some trusted the Master’s decision.

Jesus, remains the calm center as all about him is arush with all this confusion. He sees the fear in the eyes of Peter, the anger in Judas eyes. His mother is quiet as is Mary the Magdala. They tend to the preparation of the rooms where they are staying. Hauling water, setting up bedding.

The Roman soldiers are on high alert. They’ve been told that there is unrest, arguing, meetings, and groups gathering around the Temple. They have heard of this itinerant preacher who is causing dissention among the Jews. The Pharisees are speaking out in the Temple and  around the city. Crowds listen, some cheering and others jeering. The soldiers are nervous.

Jesus is aware of all of it. And he knows how it will end. He cannot and would not stop it if he could. It must be this way. They must see this new way of God, and the only way is this way. This perfect and complete offering of self–only this will jar them out of their complacency.

Jesus is the calm within the maelstrom, all moving inexorably toward this one apex of exquisite pain and offering.

I can sit and see it all. And somehow there is comfort in it all. Somehow there is. I sit in the calm with my Lord.

Amen.

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