Acts 9:36-43 • Psalm 23 • Revelation 7:9-17 • John 10:22-30
It is a great thing to have good hearing – physically to be able to hear and understand what is happening around oneself. This Sunday's reading explores good hearing at many levels, beginning with the physical. Sheep, it turns out, have good hearing. They can select their own shepherd's voice from among many, knowing which one to follow.
While people are different from sheep, we are perhaps also more like them than we tend to realize. Our capacity to hear and distinguish among sounds is a similarity we share with sheep and many other animals. Voice recognition may have been adaptive to mammalian species; knowing the location of other members of the herd or flock may have been an advantage to both predators and those preyed upon. In this story, Jesus perhaps could tell from the tone of the questions coming to him that he was being preyed upon, and by the story's end (v. 31), his death by stoning was a distinct possibility.
When challenged in the temple, Jesus shifts attention from himself as shepherd to make the point that his sheep are an unusual flock: a flock of those who recognize his voice. Most flocks, in a traditional sense, would consist of family groups of rams, ewes, and lambs. But Jesus here claims that his flock consists of those who can hear in his voice the way they wish to follow.
He makes this claim at an interesting place and time. He is in the temple in Jerusalem during what we now call Hanukah. Hanukah celebrates an event that predated Jesus' life by about 160 years – roughly the same amount of time since our own Civil War here in the U.S. Briefly, the Jewish people, led by Judas Maccabeus, revolted against Roman rule, winning some concessions to their own way of life. In the end, a Roman ruler married a descendant of the Maccabean family to seal the new relationship between the groups.
When Jesus makes the comment that his sheep would know his voice, did he mean to imply that his sheep might even include some of the hated Romans? That is mere speculation. What is clear is that he suggests that people have a choice about what voice they hear, attend to, and follow. As humans we do have many choices not available to other mammals. For example, we have the choice of understanding our own history, including both vague scriptural references such as 'The Feast of the Dedication' and our own family's story as well. When following what is an automatic pattern, we have a choice of stopping and listening to our own inner voice, deciding whether what is automatic is still serving us well. When getting upset or reactive to what one is hearing, we have the choice of slowing down and trying to understand more clearly. When getting confused – when feeling blamed, afraid, angry or ashamed – we can stop the cycle of blame and hear the voice of a different shepherd, a voice of comfort and grace, proclaiming a bigger picture: the redemption of our species and indeed all of life.
This week's reflections
Psalm 23:1-3 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
Morning reflection: What do I want to listen for today?
Evening reflection: When did I hear more clearly? When did I lose my way?