4th Sunday of Easter
In today’s Gospel, using the imagery of sheep and a Shepherd, Jesus provides the simplest summary of the mystery of salvation. This simple and concise summary is a description of a relationship. His relationship with us, those who hear his voice.
A few years ago, I worked at a place where I was very fortunate to have gotten to know and become close with a wonderful group of individuals. They were not only good at their jobs, but they were also very kind. One of the things that made this period of time uniquely special is that although we were quite an eclectic group of individuals, we all got along.
After a bit of time, and because of the trust and care we had developed for one another, we would find ourselves engaged in rather deep conversations about religion. Now I am sure that upon hearing this, all of you HR people just spontaneously gasped, however, I assure you, it just somehow worked.
Now, one person in particular was a very committed atheist, and we would often find ourselves engaged in very interesting, enjoyable, and, at times, intense conversations. During one of these conversations this individual stated that one of her major problems with religious people was their claim that they “heard God.” My response, “I hear God all the time.”
With a look on her face that indicated she might be a bit concerned she was talking to a crazy person, she asked, “Really? You hear the voice of God talking to you personally?”
I answered, “Yes.”
Now, with a tone and an expression indicative of someone who is now convinced she is indeed talking to a crazy person, she challenged, “Well… what does he say?”
I responded, “He says, ‘Jason, quit being such a jerk.’”
The idea that we can actually hear the voice of God may sound a bit strange, especially to those who are not accustomed to His voice. However, Jesus does speak to us. In fact, he is speaking to ALL of us… everywhere, throughout the entirety of human history. Jesus is speaking to all of us all of the time.
This 4th Sunday of Easter, Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom and mercy, is inviting us to reflect on what it means to hear the voice of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Today’s Gospel reading is taken from the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel and is set in the context of Jesus’s response to the Jews who are questioning his authority. This is not the first time Jesus was challenged to give an answer for his authority and the Jews demanded, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus had already answered them plainly. In the previous verses of John chapter 10 Jesus described himself as the “Good Shepard”, as “the door”, and as “(he) who lays down (his) life for the sheep.” Yet, in spite of his own words, and in spite of his works, the Jews would not accept his answer… an answer they refused to hear.
What strikes me as most interesting about this interaction, this confrontation, is the fact that it is possible to refuse to hear the voice of Jesus. That somehow, through the gracious gift of our free agency, any one of us, when given opportunity to hear the voice of Jesus, can simply refuse to hear it. So, obviously, that begs the question… do you hear the voice of Jesus?
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them; and they follow me.” To hear the voice of Jesus is predicated on the reality that we must be in relationship with him. It is not enough to know about Jesus. It is not enough to accept that Jesus was a real person who lived in a real place during a real period of time. Knowing ABOUT Jesus is entirely different then KNOWING Jesus. To know Jesus means you must encounter Jesus.
So how do we encounter Jesus?
We encounter Jesus through his church. We encounter Christ when we receive the Sacraments. We encounter Christ when we listen to the preaching of the Word and the teachings of the church. We encounter Christ when we pray. We encounter Christ when we serve the poor, and when we serve one other. Each of these occurrences provide us opportunities to encounter Jesus Christ and in turn allow us to develop a personal and vibrant relationship with him… and in that, and with that, and through that relationship, we follow him.
Now, that is sometimes a not very easy thing to do. Sometimes in this earthly pilgrimage of faith we come up against teachings, clergy, and sometimes, one another, even in our own church, that cause us difficulty in following Jesus. I get that… heck, I live that. However, if we are a living a vibrant, dynamic, effective life in Christ then we must also accept that relationship struggles are necessary.
Christ is continually calling us to a deeper relationship with him which in turn calls us to deeper relationships with one another. The command, “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength and your neighbor as yourself” is a twofold, yet single commandment of love. To have a deeper relationship with Christ requires greater love… for both God and your neighbor. It’s a single command… not a one or the other.
“I give them eternal life and they shall never perish.” Our relationship with Christ is not one-sided. Our relationship with Christ is not simply that of an obedient slave following the will of a kind master. Our relationship with Christ is one of hope. Our relationship with Christ is one of security. Both of which can only come from the Father. Our relationship with Christ ensures that we are known by the Father, and that we are loved by the Father, and that we are secure in the Father.
Our lives have meaning and purpose not in the things we possess, or in our experiences, but in our relationships. What makes us valuable is the love we share with one another… and most importantly the love we have for God. When we choose to hear the voice of Jesus, we are in relationship with him. When we are in relationship with him, we follow him, and we are loved, and we are capable of loving.
So I ask you… are you hearing the voice of Jesus?