At some time in our life each of us have had training for a new job, new task or volunteer assignment. A trainer through their words, their actual demonstration of the tasks makes sure you know every aspect of what you are to do in order to be successful. Then they step aside and let you perform those tasks and occasionally if necessary step in when you fail. But I am sure you know that in every job there are some people who pay attention to their trainer and excel while others are barely able to perform because during training their minds were elsewhere.
In my life I have held various types of jobs where more is involved than just performing a basic job skillfully. The real skill was in conveying the overall goals of the organization in a manner that motivated each person to unify in achieving those goals. During my training to become a minister of the church the process used in the seminary was referred to formation rather than training. The courses we took covered the gamut of topics from spiritual, intellectual to practical. The intent was not to train us but to form us to become effective ministers of God’s grace. The mission of the church is evangelization. Our task is to proclaim the kingdom of God and do that so people long for it in their lives. In fact, if you think about it that is exactly what the disciples were going through as they followed Jesus for the three years of their formation.
Today we hear Jesus telling us “my sheep hear my voice and follow me.” Our tasks as believers are to listen and to follow Jesus. Those words of Jesus “hear my voice and follow me” are both compelling and confusing. Compelling because they are exactly what we desire to do as believers – hear him and follow him. Jesus does not demand that we follow but instead he invites us to follow. We who believe do so much want to respond to the voice of God but are we listening to him or to ourselves.
Our problem is that there are other voices that confuse us as they invite us to go in a direction that leads us away from him. Our selfish desire often blocks out his voice so it never reaches our hearts and minds. Those selfish desires disguise themselves as a spiritual path to righteousness. We see that in the first reading when the Jews were jealous of the crowds that gathered in the temple to listen to Paul and Barnabas. They believed their path to God’s grace was superior to that Paul and Barnabas were preaching and were jealous so many people were responding to others.
We do not have to look beyond our own parishes to see that same jealousy as one ministry competes for significance with another ministry? We do look at other churches as competition and complain when they grow by stealing our sheep. The fact is generally we have failed to feed our sheep so they satisfy their hunger by looking elsewhere. I have seen people move from one parish to another because they follow a certain priest or pastor who is personable instead of because they are effective in ministering grace.
Who are we really following? Are we following Jesus or something or someone that pleases us or entertains us?
If we are going to follow the call of Jesus we must die to self and live for Christ. That means we absolutely must spend time in prayer not only listening to Jesus but discerning his will for our lives. That prayer must model the prayers of Jesus as he went off by himself to pray and commune with God. It was in those private prayers that Jesus became one with the will of the Father. It was in his prayers in the temple as scriptures say was his habit that he became one with the community of faith. We like Jesus must join in the community as it worships. Enter the worship by singing and listening intently to the prayers and the scriptures. We must respond to the presence of Christ to us in the sacrament, in the word and in the community.
Here is a spiritual truth we must learn; we are the sheep of his flock and we must listen for his voice. That means exactly what Jesus is telling us today that we must know his voice and we must follow his voice. Here is another spiritual truth: at some point we must become more than sheep following Jesus. The truth is that his voice will challenge us to go proclaim his praises. The truth is the shepherd guides and nourishes the flock while the sheep beget sheep. At some point we must become more than followers we must become the shepherd guiding and nourishing others to hear the voice of the Father.
The simple truth is our nature makes it very difficult for us to move from a comfortable religion to becoming disciples who trust in his promises. Have we not learned anything from Christ who submitted his will to the father? Have we not learned anything from Christ who gave himself up for us? Jesus is the perfect example of what we should be as both sheep obeying the voice of the one who calls us and shepherds by leading others into the very heart of a loving God.