I am considering now all the clamoring voices which too much overwhelm, claiming attention and yes, allegiance in ways they do not deserve, in ways and times and places which are certainly not life giving. Those voices which in too many ways, too many times, too often, drown out the Voice which calls us to life.
And oh, if you have woken up in this world with me now, I expect you know of what I speak as with you I recollect:
- Those voices which claim the only things which matter are those which are right in front of us: that which can be easily seen and measured.
- Those which insist that winning is what matters, at any cost. That some are more worthy of love and belonging, purpose and opportunity than others. That say that the only way to get what one wants or needs in this world is through violence or brutal domination.
- Those which lay claim to the false truth that you must do more, have more, be more. That somehow you are not enough, never enough.
- Those voices which do not know you at all — calling you to be that which you are not, that which you were never meant to be.
They are powerful voices, these, and too much they overwhelm, don’t they?
And though the forms they take, no doubt, have evolved across the centuries, they are certainly no different than those which tried to outshout the Voice of the Shepherd in this week’s Gospel where Jesus speaks of the ‘sheep who hear his voice… those he knows… those who follow him.”
And so it is, I find myself wondering now at what it was, what it is the sheep hear when they listen to and follow this Voice. Without a doubt, one does not have to dig any deeper than what is presented to us in these short verses which are ours to live in now, for here we hear of the promise of everything that will ever matter in this life and the next: eternal life. Life which goes deep in what matters now and extends far beyond our imagination. And we hear the uncompromising promise of protection not once, but twice: that those whom God has claimed will not, cannot, be snatched away. No matter how insistently those other voices promise or threaten.
Indeed, I found myself going beyond these verses and spending a little time in the chapters leading up to this one and this is what I discovered. The Voice of Jesus is always one which:
- When he urges the disciples to come and see
- And simply calls them to ‘follow him.’
Knows by name and history and hope:
- In Nathaniel — who Jesus describes as one with no deceit,
- In Nicodemus, who is yearning for new beginnings even though he doesn’t fully know it yet,
- And in the woman at the well whose story Jesus knows and speaks aloud.
Which is the source of healing:
- For the one who had been ill for 38 years, inches away from a recognized source of healing, but unable to reach it and then finally not needing it when the voice of Jesus sounded,
- For one blind from birth whose story became one of not only healing but of belief and unassailable witness,
- For a woman caught in adultery whose sin was proclaimed as no worse than that of any other, who was first protected and then given a chance at a life marked by wholeness and hope.
And which always extends abundance:
- In wine at a wedding,
- In living water which quenches all of our thirst,
- And in bread and fish and thousands fed and satisfied, with plenty to spare.
Allow yourself to listen to the voice of Jesus in the first chapters of John for a while and you may, along with me, find yourself wondering why those other voices continue to hold such sway. For it is surely so that given half a chance, this Voice overwhelms all those others:
- Which limit and exclude and never make room for more,
- Which inevitably lead to judgment and seldom offer new chances,
- Which preach scarcity and fear, never abundance and hope,
- And which do not really know you at all.
Oh, it has been helpful to me this week to listen for the voice of Jesus throughout the first chapters of John, for I do now have a deeper, broader sense of what we are meant to hear when the Shepherd speaks. And yet, I wonder now what it means to simply bring this good news that the Shepherd’s Voice is one of powerful, stubborn, unequivocal protection for those who listen now:
- For those worried about their next meal, how to pay the rent, how to keep their little ones safe…
- For those in the grip of addiction and for those whose lives are forever altered who love them…
- For those who have been battered and abused…
- For those whose diagnoses are breaking their hearts and the hearts of those who love them…
- For those so laden by debt that no clear way forward is clear…
- For those who are far from ‘home’ in any sense that matters: in the world or in their hearts…
- For those who have spent their lifetimes listening too much to the false promises of those other voices and who are just beginning to realize that in spite of their volume, their words are false and never, ever offer true abundance, or real hope, or life itself…
Oh, what does it mean to all of these and so many more that this Voice knows and loves us in all of our particularity and never, ever lets go?
- Indeed, how do we speak on behalf of the Voice of the Shepherd this week to people who too long have been misled by too many other voices?
- How do we speak this tough and tender truth where falsehoods have too much, too long been heard and believed?
- But first, how do we hear the promise of this Voice for ourselves so that we might then speak so others might hear?
I know that I, for one, am starting there this week, listening for how this Voice promising such fierce protection is speaking to me especially in those moments when the other voices overwhelm and too much try to claim what is not theirs to claim.
I am holding close the stories of Nathaniel, and Nicodemus, and a woman at a well, those drinking wine at a wedding and those sitting down to receive a simple meal of bread and fish. I am remembering the voice of Jesus extending healing to those sick or blind all of their lives and those too much judged by those who have no room to judge.
Indeed, I am remembering that as the sheep know Jesus, Jesus first knows the sheep, and so he surely knows me.
I am listening now for the sound of that Voice.