There is probably no greater beloved image of God in Scripture than that of the Shepherd. There is a tenderness that comes with that image like none other. We hear it in the Psalm today as well as the Second Reading, and then, of course, Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd in this section of John’s Gospel. But to truly understand the voice recognition that Jesus speaks of, we have to look at it in the context of it’s larger picture and what comes before, and that too, is a passage most are familiar with and one we heard a few months back.
Remember that Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. John even says that they don’t understand what he’s talking about when he speaks of this parable of the Good Shepherd. Just prior to this is the story of the man born blind that we heard on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. In that passage the pharisees put everyone on trial because of the healing that has taken place. There issue with it happening on the Sabbath, they question the sin of the man and the parents and what had caused his ailment. Then Jesus comes along and speaks of a different voice, the voice of the Shepherd, which they don’t understand.
Let me try to put it this way. We all have the voice of the Pharisee within us. It’s that critical voice towards us and others. It’s the judgmental voice towards me and others. It’s the voice where nothing is ever good enough. That’s how the Pharisees often come off when we encounter them in these stories. When you think you’ve done it all, there just one more thing that needs to be done in order to somehow earn God’s love and salvation. It’s never enough! We become so accustomed to that voice that we start to trust it and start to believe that it is God speaking within us. Jesus says otherwise; there is another voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Peter tries to make that case as well to his audience in the second reading who happen to be Christian slaves. They have found that voice within and have grown to trust it, however, their external circumstances say quite the contrary. They have experienced this great freedom within and yet they are anything but in life’s circumstances. Peter tries to send a message to them to continue to trust the guardian and shepherd of souls and you will no longer suffer in vain but will find meaning in it. Such a beautiful image that he gives us and to return to, the guardian and shepherd of our souls. Once it is found and redeemed, nothing can harm, even for those who are enslaved as he writes.
The more we grow in trust of that voice of the Good Shepherd, the more the other voices begin to fall away. That is the way through the narrow gate and the way to the fullness of life that Jesus speaks in today’s gospel. Even that voice of the Pharisee within is being led to the narrow gate to be invited into life. It is the gate to being redeemed. As we gather on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we pray that we may continue to grow in trust of that voice of the Shepherd within us and to let all else be redeemed. The more we trust, the more we will step through that gate, the gate that swings in and through and with love.