Summary: We must know the voice of Jesus our Shepherd, because he is calling us to follow Him.
A few weeks ago, I woke up with a painful ear infection. So I went to the doctor’s office to have it looked at. After I signed in at the desk, I sat down and waited for the nurse to call. And I waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, I looked at my watch and saw that it had been nearly 90 minutes. I went up and asked the nurse if I was going to be called. She had called me over an hour before. Only I didn’t hear, I couldn’t hear her voice.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Today’s lessons are absolutely beautiful. The first lesson shows how the early Church heard the voice of Jesus and acted on it, in very practical ways. The Psalm tells what blessings there are in having God as your shepherd. In the epistle, Peter writes about the reality of suffering in our lives and that we must follow Christ’s example in our suffering. And in the Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us the importance of knowing who is the Shepherd and recognizing his voice. || We must know the voice of Jesus our Shepherd, because his calls us to follow Him, || especially in suffering.
Let’s look at today’s Gospel: John 10. What is the sheep pen? It is the Church. What is the Gate? It is Jesus. That is to say to say that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father—or into the Church—except through Him. Only those sanctified in Christ enter into the Church. Only those who hear Jesus and accept him and follow him can enter through him.
The thief and robber try to find another way in besides the gate. What are they trying to do? “Only to steal and kill and destroy.” There are thieves who come to steal us from God and to try to steal blessings from Him. Thieves, who try to kill us because our holiness to the Lord stands in contrast to the depravity of the world, and they try to kill God, like Nietzsche by making him irrelevant, a quaint bygone. There are thieves who try to destroy the sheep, maiming them with lies distractions from God, and they try to destroy God by corrupting our view of Him. Thieves who try to destroy the sheep pen by breaking down the walls and blurring the line between it and the world (even by having Christians themselves duped into tearing down the wall to attempt secular relevance—the Church cannot be relevant in the context of secularism, because it is supernatural and it is holy). There are thieves who try to ruin the pastures by filling our minds with vain secularisms and profanities. There are robbers who try to get the benefit of being one of Christ’s sheep without being part of the flock, like a goat that jumps the fence and hides in among the sheep. But God will separate them out and judge them accordingly—God, the just judge who discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
The Shepherd enters through the gate. And the shepherd brings sheep in and out according to the gate. The true shepherd enters by the gate. He knows how to take the sheep in and out of the gate. He knows its location. The shepherd must “play by the rules” and enter by the gate so that he can show the sheep how to do the same. Jesus is the Gate of the sheep. He is the only way to enter into the Kingdom of God. By rejection of Him, one is excluded from the sheepfold. Woe to those shepherds who try to hoist sheep over the fence instead of taking them through the gate! They are men trying to find a shortcut into heaven. They do not accept the responsibility of being a shepherd, or are seeking some unholy personal profit. These false shepherds may have heard Jesus’ voice (probably they have), but they could not accept suffering.
The sheep listen to the shepherd’s voice. They’ve grown to know it. They weren’t born knowing his voice, but grew to trust in the true shepherd who proved himself—he laid down his life. We, the sheep of his flock, know our shepherd’s voice. We hear it throughout our lives, calling sometimes loudly, sometimes softly, and (if you’re familiar with the Dark Night of the Soul) sometimes silently. We were not born knowing his voice. By our parents and godparents, pastors and Sunday school teachers, we become aware of the Shepherd’s voice. We learn to discern it first by learning what kinds of things the shepherd says, and then listening for that voice. Sometimes we hear another voice, that of the tempter, calling in similar words, but when we follow that voice we discover the error. When you read the Bible you’re listening to the shepherd’s voice. When you pray, you’re calling out (bleating?) to the shepherd, and listening for his reply.