C Cycle – 4th Sunday of Easter 19
Jn. 10: 27-30
You may not know this about sheep, but they are instinctively herding creatures. Because they are easily preyed upon, they stay together for protection as it is easier for animals of prey to overcome a stray rather than attack the herd. If you watch animal planet, this is evident as animals of prey, like wolfs, will always try to isolate one animal out of a herd. Sheep are also followers and the entire herd will follow a dominant member of the herd even if that leader walks off a cliff. They have depth perception problems which hinder their ability to distinguish danger in shadow or poor lighting conditions. That weakness mean they can be easily led astray and on top of that they are not very intelligent so they can be deceived easily.
With all those negatives you would wonder why the image of sheep is used by Jesus to teach us something about ourselves in relationship to Him. He tells us He is the good shepherd and He will go after that one sheep who is separated from the herd. Comparing us to sheep is not very complimentary but it does, in many ways, seems to fit our nature. We are easily influenced, and we often go along with the crowd rather than make waves.
There is a very famous study by a group of psychologists where a study was conducted with a group of college students. The students were shown four lines drawn on a sheet of paper and three lines are equal in length and one is shorter. The students were to identify the shortest line. What one of the four students did not know was the other three had been previously instructed to identify the wrong line as the shortest. What transpires is a demonstration of the influence of group pressure on the unsuspecting student. They identify the correct line as the shortest but when the other three strongly identify the wrong line as the shortest, the person who is the “real test subject “reassesses their response. One hundred percent of the time they consider their response and change their answer. This is sheep behavior indicating we will follow the group even when we know better.
Now all this is well and good information for us but how does it fit into the gospel today where Jesus tells us “his sheep hear his voice and follow him.” Jesus made us a promise, recorded for us by John, and that promise is He will “…give them eternal life and will never perish and no one (will) take (us) out of (His) hand.” Notice how Jesus rephrases a promise made to us by His Father, “does a mother forget her baby…though she may forget I will never forget you for I have carved you on the palm of my hand.”
The question for us today and every day is, do we believe this promise, do we hear his voice and trust Him?” Or have we closed our ears to His voice, and we are not even listening to His voice or for His voice or taking this promise into our hearts and reflecting on it.
This entire tenth chapter of John’s gospel should challenge us to reflect on what Jesus is saying to us. Do we take the time to read, seek, listen and yes become motivated by the words of Jesus in our spiritual journey? He begins this 10th chapter by telling us he is the sheep gate and is the only way to the Father – the only way to the Father is by becoming one with Jesus.
There are many more things the Shepherd will do for us and you should take the time to read this tenth chapter from the gospel of John. The words, the symbols are important, but it is the clarity of His promise to lead us to living water if we seek it through Him. Consider what is being offered to us by Jesus. How many other things are calling to us to follow their way to holiness as compared to the clear path to the Father offered us by Jesus?
I find that same contrast of choices when you compare the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles and these four verses from the gospel of John. Talk about a contrast of voices calling us to follow. Paul and Barnabas enter the temple, and many follow them inside and take their seats. Apparently as Paul and Barnabas spoke within the temple that day, they were inspirational because the next Sabbath the “whole city was present” to hear them again. Instead of responding with joy because the temple was full to listen to the Word of God, the Jews were jealous and contradicted Paul with “violent abuse.” You hear that same charge today, as people respond to the gospel message that challenges them to move outside of their comfort zone.
What we need to learn from this experience of Paul is there are voices out there who prefer to keep the sheep content rather than leading them to greener pastures. How can we, as sheep respond to the voice of Jesus calling us to follow Him since we know we would prefer to stay in the herd where it is safe.
The answer lies in believing in the promise of God given to us in the Scriptures. The Word of God reveals how the disciples went from being confused and lacking in understanding after the resurrection to bold witnesses after Pentecost. Jesus told us to seek the pearl of great price, it lies there waiting for us to find it. It is not found in the obvious but in the desire of the heart to discover the truth of Jesus’s words that all we seek is found in him.
One thing we learn from the disciples is that initial step to follow Jesus is unclear and often uncomfortable for us to take. That first step takes us out of our comfort zone and there in lies the challenge to allow God to change our hearts from timidity to boldness.
Whose voice are you following, the one that keeps you comfortable or the one that challenges you to trust and believe?