‘I can hear you, can you hear me’, says the Lord!
A teacher’s role is to guide others from the unknown to the known. A good teacher, who is really ‘on the ball’ can visualise within his or her students what they are capable of in terms of ‘learning through discovery’. But more so, a teacher who is also engaged in long term learning, gets surprised and thrilled when the students go beyond what they are seemingly capable of, and that ‘brilliance’ can haunt the teacher in an extremely positive way: That’s an attempt to describe Christ the Teacher! Jesus was a vivid teacher, and His listeners would all have been familiar with the unique relationship which existed between a shepherd and his sheep. Our God in Jesus, is haunted by us, and longs and waits for surprises from us. Let’s go deep sea diving into this weekend’s Gospel, and we will be amazed at what we will discover.
A good shepherd in Our Lord’s time knew every one of his sheep by name, as we might our pet cat or dog, calling them by name. At most, a shepherd would have had about twelve to fifteen sheep. However, the shepherd would go to extreme lengths to protect his flock and would be with his sheep all day in the scorching heat, and at night, he would often sleep across the entrance to the cave to ensure their safety; the shepherd was the Gate! Let’s pause for a moment or two on the concept of hearing his voice. The process of hearing a voice is paramount to all our experiences of trust or fright! Every voice is different; the voice of someone who has proved their trust to us by loving and through loving, becomes a person of reliance and this immediately registers in our mind that all is OK, this is good, I feel ‘at home’ I can be myself! Whereas, the voice of someone who has equally proved to be distrustful, hurtful, arrogant and self-righteous, immediately causes an angst, a stressful buzz within us, and can put us on edge, cause us to flee, or to fight! That was a mouthful, wasn’t it?
We can also hear a loved one’s voice through writing and art; when we come to know someone really well, we can actually hear their voice through their writings. Remember the good old days, when we would receive Postcards from our loved ones while they were overseas? In seeing their hand writing, we HEAR their words. It’s not the same when we get a text message from someone overseas……that form of media cuts out to some degree the hearing of their voice! A loving voice is also a creative voice! As we look and listen to God’s Word in Scripture, we can switch on, to God! His words to us are always creative, loving, forgiving and challenging.
A person’s handwriting is a work of art! We KNOW the person as his or her handwriting is distinctive. Great works of art speak about the Artist, look at some of the most famous paintings in the world’s Galleries, they speak volumes about the Artist, if you KNOW the Artist. If you don’t know the artist, one can learn about the Artist, and then once we get ‘in tune’ with them, we can HEAR them. Now, look at our World, our Galaxy the entire Universe always speaks about our Creator. One of the greatest Scientists of our time, Professor Brian Cox, from Manchester University, has a wonderful way about him as he unfolds for us the beautiful and stunning mysteries of our Universe, our Solar System, our Planet, and Humankind, the crown of creation. Let’s move onto Jesus the LIVING WORD!
The very WORD of God became flesh and blood like us in Jesus. Jesus is the human voice and face of the Father. As we listen to a well known and loved voice as coming through a postcard or hand written letter, we see in the listening, the face of our loved one. In Scripture, there is a repetitive theme….’let us see your face O Lord, and we shall be saved!’ So, in today’s Gospel from the Johannine Community, all these aspects and many more, are contained within the didactic message of this passage.
The Fourth Gospel segment for today, makes it clear that many of Our Lord’s disciples, did not get his message about the Shepherd, the voice and the gate! But, they are not the only ones….this is a timeless reading, and so many of us still don’t ‘get it’! In the second part of this Gospel, where the early Church in Jesus, gives forth and explanation, we see quite intensely that Jesus says….’ I am the gate’. Now, unless we are really ‘on our metal’ that phrase would slip us by, and we would fail to hear and see its meaning. In short, in the Greek, let’s take note of I AM!!!! That is the Divine Name of The Lord God!!!!!
If anything is enough to wake us up, and get the message, it is this! Wow! The Divine Name is in Jesus! Jesus is the Divine Name! What then is the purpose of this text? That is expressed in the last line of the Gospel …….’I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full’. So, therefore, in conforming to Jesus in his message and within His living Body, the Church, we are on track to live life to the fullest! To share that life with others so that the words of the Lord’s Prayer may continue to be present, yet not completely fulfilled….’thy will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven’. The Mission, and our Mission, impelled through Christ’s love, namely to bring Heaven to Earth! Wow! That is sure food for thought!
On a lighter note, I would like to include this…..For us here in Australia and New Zealand, and in other places in the world that graze sheep; there are hundreds of them if not thousands of sheep on a Property, or Station as we call them in Australia. I remember my dear old Uncle Harold who used to herd sheep and transport them in huge trucks to take them to slaughter, he had one name for every one of them…..but I can’t tell you what it was because it would take this realhomilie out of a G rating into something else……..
Finally, notice in the Gospels, we hear that the Shepherd leads his sheep … he never drives them. He simply walks ahead, and they listen to his voice, and follow him wherever he goes. Sheep also express their loyalty to their shepherd in many very beautiful ways, somewhat like our pets do to us at home. On the other hand, goats have to be driven … they won’t follow their goat-herd. It’s interesting to hear Jesus using the shepherd separating the sheep from the goats to describe the participants in the final judgment. In other words, separating those who followed, from those who needed to be driven. Interesting thought to ponder, eh?
A few years ago, I spent some time ministering in the Holy Land and while there, frequently drove English speaking Pilgrims around in a mini bus, visiting different Religious Sites. On one occasion, we visited the Shepherd’s Cave and as we got down from the bus, a Shepherd appeared over the brow of a hill, leading a dozen or more sheep. They were a bit different to our sheep as they didn’t have as much wool on them as our Merinos – and they had black snouts. We all thought ‘What a great picture this would make to take home’, so we took our snaps and as we began to move towards the Cave, the Shepherd came toward us smiling. Suddenly, he began to shout and carry on, waving his crook at us, and yelling ‘Shekel, Shekel!’ He wanted money, but we only had American Dollars, and he could see that we weren’t going to pay him. So I said, ‘We’d better get back to the Bus’. We ran for our lives and got into the Bus, and here he was, banging his stick on the windows, shouting words we didn’t understand and probably that was a good idea.
One of the great scandals in history is the extent to which the Body of Christ has been so splintered. While a number of groups claim Christ as their Shepherd, many deny the same right to those who do not walk in their way. But there is hope in the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel, where He declares that someday, there will be one fold, and one shepherd. But this can happen only when we stress the need for unity … not necessarily conformity. What Jesus is saying is that we must listen, and be open to others – Christians and non-Christians alike – just as we would welcome a guest into our home. Is this something about being trustful and loving, which will set the spark of ‘welcome’ and safety in others? Look at Pope Francis in his recent visit to Egypt! The ways in which he becomes a LIVING BRIDGE in his Ministry? The loving outreach to Muslims and Christians of various persuasions? What do I see on Facebook? So much criticism of the loving outreach by the Vicar of Christ! In truth, the modern day Pharisees have not had it so good!
In our Eucharist this weekend, let us pray that we may devote quality time to being attentive to the voice of our Good Shepherd, Christ the Lord, in prayer … that we may put into action the stirrings of ‘response’ from the Holy Spirit, to be Christ’s living Word now, and always.
Let us give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His love has no end.
Fr Kevin Walsh