When I was away from home, I would call my mother or she would call me on the phone. Though I might have been in New York City, as soon as I heard her voice, I felt as though I was back home in Louisville again. The hundreds of miles soon collapsed into a few feet. I was suddenly reconnected to home. Amazing the power of a familiar voice!
Jesus tells us that his sheep have the same kind of experience of being home when he calls out their names. There is nothing so powerful as hearing the voice of Jesus call us by name. Remember when Mary Magdalene met Jesus in the garden, and he looked like a stranger. When he said “Mary,” she melted and fell at his feet. She was back home with the love of her life.
In today’s gospel passage we read another story about how Jesus was confronted by his opponents. (John 10:22-30).
“So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’”
We’d expect that Jesus would address their question directly and say “Yes, I am the Messiah.” If he did this, would they have believed him? Of course not. There were others at that time who proposed that they were the Messiah. Two of these were a man named Theudas who had about “400” followers, and Judas the Galilean who also had a significant number of followers (see Acts 5:36-37). If Jesus threw his hat into the ring, the stage would have been set for some “media mogul” to conduct a money-making debate on the Temple grounds.
Instead of answering their question, Jesus told them that they did not have the ability to recognize him, no matter what he said. His physical appearance was probably not much different from any other Jewish man of the time. And his arguments, to the Jews, would have sounded like the words of any other rabbi who was trying to argue his case. The only thing that would prove that he was the true Messiah was voice recognition. Did they recognize his voice?
“But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”
It didn’t take eyes or rational thinking to detect who Jesus was. It took “ears” of the heart. Those who knew Jesus personally and loved him, knew his voice—it was different from any other they’d ever heard—just the way I knew my mother’s voice and she knew mine. For non-sheep, Jesus’ voice was that of just another teacher. Only a radio can pick up music in the air. Only one of his sheep could pick up Jesus’ voice.
Then Jesus quickly shifted away from the Messiah debate and begin to talk about his sheep and how he took care of them. Back to the main topic—his love for us.
“…they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
Did we catch that? Sheep did not pick Jesus to be their Shepherd; they were picked out and assigned to Jesus by the owner of the estate—Jesus’ Father. And this “estate owner” was “greater than all.” All the armies in the world do not have the power to remove even the least sheep from the hands of the Father. Imagine how good it made Jesus’ sheep feel when they heard him reassure them of their safety and of how much he loved them.
Can we begin to imagine the privilege we have of being picked out by the Father and assigned to Jesus? Can we begin to appreciate the gift we have in being able to detect the voice of Jesus? Do we reflect enough upon the truth that no one, including Satan himself, has the power to take us out of God’s hand?
Every sheep on earth wishes it had Jesus for its shepherd. If someone feels that he or she doesn’t recognize the voice of Jesus, all that person has to do is pray and ask God will to assign them to Jesus–today. There is always more room in Jesus’ fold. His wish is that all sheep belonged to him. Ask, and we will always receive.
“His foundation upon the holy mountains the Lord loves” (Ps 87:1).