John 10:1-10, Fourth Sunday of Easter
It is harder to listen nowadays. The plethora of channels out there adds to the difficulty. Ironically, instead of being more connected in a wired and flatter world, we find all kinds of disconnection. Nowhere is this seen more readily than in the proliferation of the echo chamber, which is a selfie-contained cavity where most of what you get to hear is your own voice.
You would think that hyperconnectivity would expand the democratic space. And it has. There are more channels out there indeed. We get to read and see and listen to a lot more stuff than ever.
But an unintended consequence of this bonanza is the stream of noise and garbage gushing out into our screens and consciousness as well. When this happens, we tend to shut out the noise, hoping that the filth would eventually be dialed down. But no, noise begets noise, the decibels get amplified, and the feedback can become unbearable.
And so we retreat to our own echo chambers, these electronic social ghettoes that shelter us from the clatter even as we admit that retreating so only reinforces what we want to believe, and makes it more painful to deal with our differences. We justify the echo chamber, the clustering of similar and allied voices, as our defense against the viciousness and vulgarity of dissonant voices out there. We disengage out of exhaustion even as we know that disengaging so only compounds the divisiveness and contraction of democratic space.
We do not need martial law to see that democratic dissent nowadays is suppressed systematically not by brute physical force but by the violence of our vulgarity. It is the sheer indecency of our discourse, the obscenity and insincerity in our voices that are subversive not only of democracy but also of all that is human and heroic about us.
There would be less division, less of these echo chambers if we exercised more restraint in our language, online or otherwise, if our words were more measured and respectful, if there were less of the fake news out there. There would be less discord if there were less peddling of falsehood and less glamorizing of irreverence or disrespect in our world today.
To such a broken world speaks the reverential voice of the true shepherd, the Good Shepherd. His is a voice that resonates with life, calling us out of our self-echoing pens, leading us out, and calling us by name:
“The sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice.”
How do we begin to know his voice?
One way to recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice is to catch the words that come out carefully from this voice. And today, we hear quite clearly and unequivocally: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” His is a voice that calls us out to life.
Of course, there are stranger voices out there promising us all kinds of life, voices that appear to blend in harmony but are dissonant in reality. Our lusts and addictions (to drugs or power or self-righteous death-dealing) are whispered to us by these deceptive voices.
The voice of the Shepherd is an intimate voice that calls us by name. It is a voice that calls us forth to life from death, a voice whose very tone awakens our desire to receive life by giving life to others. The voice of the Shepherd is resonant with our holy longing for life.
A second way to know God’s voice is listen to what this voice consistently speaks about and for whom this voice speaks with much compassion. When the Good Shepherd realizes we are “like sheep without a shepherd”, when he goes out to look for the lost one, his voice is one we have heard before: it is the voice that seeks us out through the night.
The voice of the Shepherd is a hopeful voice that seeks us out by name. It is a voice that resonates with our desire for deliverance from anything that might enslave us. It is a voice that calls us forth to freedom, a voice that strikes a chord in our hearts, summoning us to forgive even as we are forgiven, calling us to receive mercy by giving mercy away, even if that means a lifetime of having to make things whole again and again. The voice of the Shepherd is resonant with our ultimate desire for forgiveness.
It is not hard to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. We only need to see with Easter eyes that among the many rooms in our heart, there is a quiet and hallowed chamber where we can listen for him. The holy sound that resonates here is the sound God makes when he gives voice to his longing for us who are his very own.
We will know the Shepherd’s voice when he seeks us out by name, longing only for our life and our forgiveness. Let us listen for him, for the sound of his longing.