Knowing the Shepherd’s Voice
Fourth Sunday of Easter (A) | Fr Dermot Morrin reflects on the unpacking of the gift of baptism as we strive to know the Good Shepherd’s voice.
The voice of the Shepherd is at the heart of the Church. On this Sunday the whole Church prays that men and women will be receptive to his voice. We pray that those whom he calls to religious life and the priesthood will be able to respond to that call. This reality, which is played out deep in the heart, is hugely important for the life of Church. 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.
Many years ago, I heard a preacher say that the Lord is a poor fighter in a crowd. I have never forgotten those words. To know his voice then is crucial for us because we live in a world where there are too many voices. Jesus says that the sheep know his voice. It is worth pondering what it is to 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 know a great many things but who do not 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 know the voice of the Shepherd. The blindness of the Pharisees to Jesus is built out of their claims to knowledge.
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 seems to me that we often underestimate what he is doing in us when we enter through his door in baptism. The late Geoffrey Preston O.P. wrote of baptism, “It is a beginning in fullness,” and that “We never get beyond our baptism”. Alluding to the advice of Peter in the first reading “Repent and be baptized”, he notes that while this fullness unfolds throughout our lives, at the same time our lives as the baptized, should involve a stripping away of all pretence, a letting go of the things we claim to know, a giving of self to him in trust. It is the kind of trust the sheep has when it follows the Shepherd’s voice. Geoffrey Preston O.P. was, I am told, a big character in many ways, not least, physically. And so perhaps with a certain degree of humour he could say that when in baptism, we put on Christ, it is like putting on weight! Although many of us do not remember our baptism, in it our centre of gravity shifted to Christ and one way of understanding our lives is to see the unpacking of what we were then given.
In these weeks of Eastertide, let us pray that the baptismal vows, which we renewed at Easter, may come alive in us. May the water with which we were splashed stir something deep within us. May our attentiveness to the voice of the shepherd grow, 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.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a window in the Memorial Chapel at Stanford University in California.