So, once again we see Jesus engage the Pharisees, but rather than address their obstinacy with force, or their anger with anger, and their pride with defensive pride, Jesus chooses to speak to them instead of speaking down to them. Jesus brings forth for them a beautiful, ancient image of God, of God’s kindness and dedication to his creatures, an image that all Jews at that time would have heard a rabbi use when referring to God and to God’s covenant love for Israel: God as shepherd, a kind, wise shepherd, one whose attitude of love and care for his sheep is conveyed in his voice as he leads them to pasture.
Jesus is asking the Pharisees to listen to this image, not to prove himself right (Jesus had no need to prove himself over and above anyone, not even the Pharisees), for what Jesus is saying to them is not about right or wrong, good or bad, perfect or imperfect. Why? Because God’s righteousness has no sides, no agendas, no pre-conditions, God has nothing to prove to us so that we can see that only God is God. Indeed, the Lord, the Holy One, loves us, cares for us, calls us each by name, because God wants to love us this way: Jesus is telling them that God is always and everywhere benevolent, patient, and always alert to us, to our presence.
Sadly, sometimes we, too, are so full of ourselves that we cannot see past ourselves to what is right there, in our lives, in our very being: The Lord our God. We think we know everything there is to know about our God, our Father; or, that we know just enough of the Father and God’s gospel to feel ‘safe,’ to be ‘not lost,’ to be ‘in the fold,’ in ‘the one true church,’ when inside of ourselves there is much distraction, much noise, much fighting, much getting even with others or judging them, or being resentful with them or with life. When really, what really matters is the state of our listening: We hear the Gospel, yes, but do we hear Jesus, do we really listen to God? To really listen to God, we must want to hear God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind: We must lean into God, just as, in conversation, we lean into each other when there is too much noise around us. When we hear the voice of our Lord, we receive and understand, God’s message, God’s great gift of grace in Christ., which, as St. James says in his letter, God has planted in our hearts, and which, if we humbly submit to it, has the power to save us, to produce our salvation.
But this power to save us is God and God alone in Christ. This power comes quietly, gently, humbly, not in great visions or experiences that are out of this world. Nor does it come with status, fame, or fortune, for this power, God’s power, is shy, humble, kind, and generous. It has no need to force itself or to prove itself; therefore, it has no conditions, no price. But, if we listen and take into our hearts this fertile loved of God, as sheep taking in the voice of their shepherd, and this love soaks into us through and through, this is the moment the voice of the good Shepherd is perceived. When the voice of Christ is received in our heart, we hear it in our heart, and God then feeds us with all that is holy, all that heals, and all that redeems us, and others, just as we are.
May God in his Christ communicate to us his Love, his Compassion, and may others, when hearing us, also hear the healing voice of the Lord God our Shepherd in all his glory, humility and mercy.