Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Shepherd's Voice

When I was a young theology student in Rome, I had the opportunity to hike through the Holy Land with some of my fellow students. It was a unique and sometimes grueling way to experience the lands of the Bible. We spent one night sleeping on the beach and another on a parking lot only to be awakened by a pack of wild camels circling our site.

As we made our way through the rocky hillsides and arid wadis, it was not uncommon to find the rotting carcass of a sheep or goat. The fetid odor and buzz of flies was unmistakable. We always found them at the bottom of a cliff. They had obviously become separated from their flock and shepherd, hazarded too close to the edge and tumbled down to their death.

No doubt Jesus and his disciples often came across such carcasses as they traveled between the villages of Galilee and Judea. They came to serve as a warning to his followers. Jesus had come to identify his mission with that of the shepherd who protects his sheep. And he looked upon his disciples as sheep in need of constant care lest they falter in the desert heat, get run down by a wolf or spill unawares over a cliff. His discourse on the Good Shepherd - a portion of which we read in today's gospel - is a reflection on this.

The followers of Jesus are safe so long as they stay close to him and listen for his voice. Once we begin to stray, lusting after lusher pastures, we fall prey to the wolf. When we leave Christ to follow instead our passions and misguided ideas, we stumble into danger.

Hearing and recognizing the voice of our Good Shepherd is by no means easy. It is difficult to know whether it is Jesus' voice that we are hearing or the echo of our own desires. Despite the difficulties, one way to be sure that we are near Jesus and within earshot of his voice is to stick with his flock.

None of us is put out to pasture alone. We are part of a community. We are not meant to live the Christian life privately, isolated from others. It is together that we learn to hear God's voice and discern his will for us.

So when we leave the flock, we find ourselves away from the protection of our shepherd and closer to the edge of danger.

If we want to find the shepherd, we have to join the flock. Wherever the flock is, Jesus is sure to be close by.

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