John 10:1-10, 4th Sunday of Easter
The word “voice” is constantly repeated in the Gospel Reading for today. The sheep hear the voice of the shepherd; they know his voice, but the voice of strangers they do not recognize.
When I think of the word “voice”, I am reminded of one of the features of pluralism. In a pluralistic society, one does not hear a single voice. One listens to a variety of voices coming from every conceivable direction.
There is the voice of tri-media telling us what to wear, what to eat, where to go, or how to behave. Advertisements use good-looking models to influence our choices. Subconsciously, we are being told that if we buy the clothes, or the shoes, or the perfume, that this actress wears, we will look like her. The tragedy is, more often than not, we tend to believe it.
There is the voice of dominant culture making us believe that truth and morality are relative and situational, that we can do whatever we want as long as we don’t step on the toes of others. There is the voice of peers and friends showing us different ways of doing things which we, in turn, try to assimilate so that we can please them and be accepted by them.
With so many voices behind our ears, what happens to us? We become confused. We end up not knowing whom to believe or unsure about what we really want.
I think the Gospel for today reminds us that “God has a voice”. The God of the Bible is not an abstraction, not a philosophical concept. The God of the Bible is one who speaks to us, one who communicates himself to us. In the Gospel, Jesus compares himself to a shepherd who calls his sheep by name. He speaks to his sheep, and his sheep recognize his voice.
Why is the voice of the Good Shepherd important? I believe the answer is simply this: His voice alone truly consoles us in our confusion and restlessness.
I think Ron Rolheiser deserves a fuller quote here. He says, “Inside each of us, there is a deep, congenital restlessness. We are not restful beings who sometimes get restless, but restless beings who occasionally experience rest…. Because of this, we can find it difficult to concentrate during the day and to sleep at night. We go through life feeling like we are missing out on something, that life is more exciting and fulfilling for others than it is for us. Our achievements rarely satisfy us because we are always aware of what we haven’t achieved, of missed chances and failed possibilities. Always too, it seems that we are inadequate to the task, that we disappoint those we love”.
No matter how hard we try to find relief from this “congenital restlessness”, we will not be able to fully come to grips with it. We can distract ourselves for a while, be lulled by soothing and seemingly sympathetic voices, but we may end up even more dissatisfied. Henri Nouwen said that in this life, there is no such thing as “clear-cut, pure joy”. Even our happiest moments have blots and stains of imperfection.
In the morning of the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty. Her heart already ripped apart by the death of Jesus, Mary found herself in even deeper grief. And then from behind, she heard the voice of the Shepherd calling her name, “Mary!” While the remainder of her earthly life certainly stayed imperfect, that moment must have given her indescribable consolation. May we too, in our quiet times and corners, hear, even vaguely, our names lovingly pronounced by the Shepherd. For the disconsolate heart, no matter how anxious or fearful, it will be enough.