Rhetorical questions are risky, but sometimes it is wise to hazard one: who hasn’t used Skype, or at least had a brush with it? In the past five years or so communicating with friends, family, and colleagues has changed dramatically. We have board meetings and even job interviews now with people on the other side of the country. Young families today visit Grandma and Grandpa through laptops; through this kind of technology they get to see first steps and hear first words. For grad students and folks in the military serving or studying overseas, seeing loved ones on a screen mitigates the long stretches of time away and the distance between.
The reality is that we have become a more mobile — and fragmented — culture. The blessing of having all of one’s family within a few miles is increasingly rare, if not a phenomenon of a bygone era. Hence FaceTime, Skype, and other forms of technology help. Why is this so important? It is important because we need to hear and see each other. We need a voice and a face. We need to see the smiles and the frowns, those familiar raised eyebrows and furrowed glances of concern. We know these faces and we long to see them. We long to hear those voices that have calmed us, that have challenged us, that have cared for us; those voices that have whispered to us steadily through our lives.
There are stories today of young children who recognize some family members beyond Mom and Dad only because of seeing them through Skype. Were it not for these sorts of programs, they might find Grandma and Grandpa to be strangers, and estrangement is brutally painful. These children recognize the ones who love them. They run to Grandma and Grandpa as the familiar, as family.
In our gospel passage for this week, Jesus speaks of sheep knowing the shepherd. The shepherd is the one who cares for them. He keeps them safe. He holds them close. He will not let them go. Being a Christian has a great deal to do with steadily growing more and more familiar with the voice of the shepherd. Knowing him and trusting him come not all at once but day by day, as he lavishes his care and love, and sometimes his reproof and challenge.
And what happens if his voice is drowned out? Let’s be honest, there are competitors. Our ears are filled, hour by hour, with other voices. Our eyes are captivated with other faces. Only by really listening, day by day, year by year, to the one shepherd will we ever know his accent.
Why do we marvel that many simply cannot recognize the accent of the shepherd, or see his face? Familiarity with the voice of the shepherd does not come naturally. It isn’t something we just pick up. Knowing the shepherd’s voice — being comfortable with him — only comes after giving oneself year by year to a real relationship with him in word and sacrament within the life of his body, the gathered Easter community called Church.
Look It Up
Read John 10:4.
Think About It
How can we recognize the voice of the shepherd?