Hearing Jesus' Voice
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
- John 10: 1-18

When we know someone, we often could say that we know his or her voice. Each person has his or her unique voice that does not belong to someone else. You know your mother’s voice and you would not mistake her voice with another person. You know the voice of your spouse or a child, or of a beloved friend, and you know the voice because you know them, that is, you have a relationship with them. When they call to you, you come to them for you know who they are by their voice.       

The fourth Sunday of Easter is usually called Good Shepherd Sunday. The opening prayer mentions Christ as the good Shepherd. In today’s Gospel from John, Jesus refers to himself as the good Shepherd. He says that when he calls his sheep, they hear his voice and follow him. They follow him because they know his voice, and they know it is the good Shepherd calling them. The sheep follows him because the sheep has an intimate knowledge of the Shepherd.  The sheep that do not follow him means they do not recognize his voice because they do not have a deep enough relationship with him. Some are led astray by others who feign the voice of the good Shepherd, others who pretend to be the good Shepherd but are really thieves who come to destroy the sheepfold. Thus, Jesus says that recognizing his voice presupposes a relationship with him. We can only follow and heed his voice if we know him through a relationship that we primarily nurture and nourish through prayer.

But in fact, it is not that easy to follow him. Perhaps, we have not taken the time and effort to renew our relationship with God that we do not recognize his voice in our lives. We could not hear him. We have wandered far enough from the Shepherd that the voice is faint or we could not hear it and we are lost. And at other times, there are other voices that compete with and try to drown the voice of the good Shepherd. We often follow other voices that seek to promise us more happiness, that seduces us into believing that they- and not God- can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts- career, accumulation of material things, prestige and honor, influence, money, and so on. And so what happens is that we confuse these lesser voices with the voice of God, and we end up following other voices before we listen to the true voice of God.

It takes a great deal of intention, of devoting time and effort to listening to the voice of God, to silence or turn down the noise of other competing voices so that we could commune with God. It takes some discipline to do this. It is like any relationship- whether that be of marriage, family or friendship. We can deepen our knowledge of our beloved if we take regular and consistent time to in conversation, in listening to our beloved ones. How many times have I seen a couple fall out of love, emotionally uninvested in each other because they have failed to spend time to listen to one another. “I don’t know you anymore,” some of them say. How many times have I seen children alienated from their parents because there was no time invested in deepening relationships through conversation and listening.

The same with the good Shepherd. If we want to hear his voice, if we want to get to know his intention and purpose for us in our lives, we take the time to listen in prayer and Scripture, and listening to him in the voice of others who are created to be the image of God. Several years ago, I was in some Russian monastery on Mt. Athos in Greece, and I woke in the middle of the night, around two o’clock. I decided to go out of my room momentarily and I saw lights still on in some of the rooms of the monks. I was told that for many of these monks, the best time to listen to God is in the stillness and silence of the night, every night, because during the day, they are preoccupied with many things- greeting guests and pilgrim, chores, attending to some other work, and it is hard to focus on listening. It might not be in the middle of the night, but you need to find the right time for you to listen daily for unless you do, you may have difficulty in recognizing the voice of Jesus who lovingly calls you by name.

© 2023 Noel E. Bordador

Noel Bordador is a queer Episcopal priest in the Philippines. He runs Nazareth House, a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality for persons with HIV/AIDS in Manila.

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