April 13, 2008
EASTER IV (A)
The sheep hear his voice as he calls his own by name and leads them out.
- John 10: 3
It was high noon in midtown Manhattan . The streets were buzzing with activity: crowds of people scurrying to lunch, car horns honking, brakes screeching, a siren wailing. Two men were making their way together through the crowds. One was a native New Yorker, the other a Kansas farmer on a visit. Suddenly, the farmer stopped & said to his friend, “Hold on! I hear a cricket!” His friend replied, “Are you kidding? Even if there were one around here, which I doubt, you would never be able to hear it over all this noise.”
Remaining quiet for a few moments, the farmer walked several paces to the corner where a bush was growing in a large cement planter. He turned several leaves over & found the cricket. The city man was flabbergasted: “What great ears you have.” But the farmer said, “No, your ears are as good as mine. It’s a matter of what you’ve been conditioned to listen for. I’ll show you.” Pulling out a handful of coins, he let them drop to the sidewalk. As if on cue, every head in the block turned. The farmer said, “See, you hear what you want to hear. It’s a matter of what you’re listening for.”
In our Lord’s time, shepherds brought their flocks back from the fields at night & herded them together in a common enclosure. In the morning the shepherds would return to the big pen & each in turn would call out his own sheep to follow him. Remarkably, the sheep would sort themselves out in response to their particular shepherd’s voice. There was no confusion about this. Each sheep would wait to hear its own shepherd’s voice before moving out. Each sheep recognized the voice of its one, true shepherd. You see, sheep are not as dumb as we humans often are.
In our time, multi-million dollar campaigns bring the voice of mammon directly into our homes continuously. We are told: “Listen! You can have the good life if only you will buy this or that, wear this or that, eat or drink this or that.” Yet in the midst of all the cacophony, there is a still, small voice (for those who have ears to hear) saying,
“Do not worry & say, ‘What are we to eat’ or ‘What are we to drink’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God & His righteousness, & all these things will be given you besides.” (Mt. 6: 31-33).
Most of the time, we hear only what we want to hear. It depends on what we’re listening for. But sometimes what we don’t want to hear breaks in on our consciousness & forces us to listen. If someone had told me as a young man I would end up a Catholic priest, I would have laughed. But little by little, an insistent nagging that would not quit convinced me that I was being called by name. Following that voice has led me on an incredible chase, but one that is infinitely worth while. As I look back, nothing seems to describe it better than the words of Francis Thompson, a 19th century English writer, in his poem “The Hound of Heaven” (who, of course, is God):
I fled him down the nights & down the days; I fled him, down the arches of the years; I fled him, down the labyrinthine ways of my mind; & in the mist of tears I hid from him, & under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; & shot, precipitated, adown titanic glooms of chasmed fears, from those strong feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase, & unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy, they beat – a voice more instant than the feet – all things betray thee, who betrayest me. Alack, thou knowest not how little worthy of any love thou art! Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee, save me, save only me? All which I took from thee I did but take, not for thy harms, but just that thou might’st seek it in my arms. All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: rise, clasp my hand, & come!
We all have a God-given vocation, that’s why we were born. The tragedy is that so few of us hear the voice calling us by name, & if we do, we refuse to heed it for fear of what it might cost. The resulting price we pay is far higher than anything He asks of us. AMEN!