Reflection on The Word, Fourth Sunday of Easter (2013)
As a young child I imagined the voice of God to sound like a sonic boom, echoing and reverberating, words which would be spoken to me in plain English, from a deep, masculine, disembodied voice in the sky, much like you see it portrayed from time to time on The Simpsons.
Later on, as a teenager, I began to wonder why I never heard this voice. If God loved me as much as he did every other person, why did he not speak to me? I prayed to hear it, but it never happened. All around me, I heard people say to me “God is everywhere! You just have to listen and you will hear God’s voice.” I smiled politely, but privately, I thought these people were crazy. When a religious sister tried to teach me that God spoke to me through Jesus in the gospels, I was suspicious, but at least these were actual words that I could read or listen to…even in English!
Later still, as an adult, I began to understand that God does speak to me in all sorts of different ways, but understanding this required me to move beyond the image of God as a white-bearded old man, sitting on a marble throne amid dramatic white cloud effects (try to imagine a cross between an aging Moses and King Zeus from the 1980s Hercules cartoons).
As the prophet Isaiah has told us, our ways are not God’s ways, so this helped with the disembodied voice scenario I had a hard time letting go of. Also, I began to understand that it was possible for the Word of God to speak to me in a very real, dynamic way, changing in tone and message according to where it was I was situated in my life.
Listening for and recognizing the voice of God has taken more work than I expected, though, even when listening to the words Jesus uses when speaking to us through the gospels. It seems to me that sheep in flocks more easily recognize the voice of their shepherd. From what I understand, the flocks of sheep in Jesus’ day, the ones he speaks about in today’s gospel from John, would have been keenly attuned to the voices of their shepherd, whose job it was to keep them safe from harm. This sense of familiarity is obvious; “My sheep hear my voice; I know mine, and mine know me,” he says.
Furthermore, the shepherd would have known each of the sheep in his flock very well, and would likely have given them each a unique name. He would have known them, and called them, by name.
How comforting is it to hear the familiar voice of a loved one call you by your name? I think today’s gospel is a reminder that we are already involved in a dialogue with Jesus, however we choose to see this. It is also an open and loving invitation to strengthen our relationship with Jesus Christ through this dialogue.
-Trevor Droesbeck, Office of Youth Faith Development