The familiar voice

Reflection on the story of the Good Shepherd
Fourth Sunday of Easter: Psalm 23 & John 1.1-10

Our readings this morning make us reflect on God in the familiar image of the Good Shepherd. Although not many of us still live in a place where shepherding is a common profession, the Biblical stories have become very much part of our Western narrative, even for those who would not call themselves Christians.

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That of course comes with its risks, because the way we imagine a shepherd nowadays, will have been very different from what they may have looked and behaved like two millennia ago. However, I don’t want to dwell on that thought too much, but rather share a story that made me think of the Good Shepherd a few weeks ago. I was out on my daily round of exercise on Granham Hill, just around the corner from where I live. Usually there are sheep roaming around at a distance, and the only interaction between them and me is a curious look at one another.

However, on this particular day, one of the sheep was stuck in some barbed wire. Being reminded of my pastoral profession, I felt a duty to see if there was anything I could do. Slowly I approached the sheep, at the same time not trying to scare it as well as thinking how I would go about freeing it. Whilst I was still at a good distance, the sheep was so shocked by my appearance, that this in itself was enough for it to free itself, and quickly it ran away.

Good ShepherdI was left with a feeling of relief as well as dismay, as I hadn’t expected I would have that effect on another living create. At the time, I thought it would make for a sermon one day, and so here it is. This anecdote perfectly demonstrates the point that John makes in his Gospel: “The sheep will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers”.

The fact that the sheep was so desperate to run away from me, had nothing to do with who I was or what I looked like, but only with the fact that I was a complete stranger. We may wonder what this has to do with us, unless we are trying to take up a pastoral role. I think it is something we experience more often than we think.

When was the last time that someone hurt you by saying or doing something that touched a nerve? Usually when this happens, we are quick to take such an instance personally. “He said this to make me look foolish”. “She ignored me, because the thinks I’m not worth it”.

However, when we reconsider these occasions in the light of our reading this morning, I wonder how often it is more likely that these things happened for a lack of understanding and relationship, rather than a conscious attempt to hurt us. He may have said this, because he didn’t know I had already done the work. Or she may not have realised that I was waiting to be called upon.

In our relationships with others, it is far more often our lack of understanding of the other that causes pain, than the deliberate intent to hurt. I suspect that more often than we think, we too are like the stranger who makes others run away, rather than the shepherd whom the sheep will follow.

So for all of us, but maybe particularly those with some responsibility for the care of others, our priority should be to get to know the other. To become the familiar voice that can be trusted. Because of course, this is the important other aspect: just a familiar voice is not enough, it needs to be reliable, trustworthy and caring.

And in all this, Jesus himself can be our example and inspiration. Thinking back to the Resurrection appearances, each time Christ was known by His knowing: when he called Mary’s name, shared the peace and broke the bread.

Maybe this time of isolation can be a time to get to know each other a little better. To become a more familiar voice. Christ came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. Let us then share that life, and share it abundantly.

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