Today we feature a devotion from member Rebecca Davis written in 2009 that seems especially relevant today. “We live in noisy times,” she writes. How do we listen for Jesus?
For me, the passage in John (like much of John) is a little difficult to swallow, especially given one of the traditional interpretations.
John’s Gospel, written last of our four, had at least two goals: to establish Jesus as the divine son of God, and to exalt him above other potential choices for the Gentiles. A tall order. The Greeks were living in a time of many religions and, in their own tradition, many gods. John used powerful metaphors to establish Jesus as the primary authority. Christianity was a fledgling entity, fighting for its very survival.
So John gives his readers many metaphors that explain how essential Jesus was to finding God. In this one, he describes thieves breaking into the sheepfold, a place where many flocks of sheep were kept. In the story, Jesus talks about people breaking in without going through the gate and calling to the sheep. These people are false prophets, distracting the sheep, and leading them astray.
And here is where the tough part comes in: one traditional interpretation of the passage suggests that Jesus is the gate, and that the only way for the sheep to get to the shepherd (God, the creator) is by going through the gate. John’s metaphor and this interpretation trouble us, living in multi-cultural families and our multi-cultural world.
I choose to focus on what I think is the most important part of this metaphor: the sheep, miraculously, know the voice of their shepherd. They know because they listen in a way that is bigger than hearing; it is about belonging. The shepherd calls them by name.
I’ve seen it happen in my friends’ houses, when my friends who are mothers hear their babies crying long before I do from four rooms away. It is a different kind of listening they do. It is IN these mothers; they never stop listening. Listening for their babies becomes a part of who they are.
These sheep hear in that way, and follow. This is something we can do, with practice. We can listen with the part of us at the center of us, the part of us that Jesus marks as his own when we are baptized. This may require us to take time every day to be quiet. We live in noisy times.
And this noise, after all, is what Peter of warns against in 1 Peter. It turns out that we are pretty good at creating our own noise with fear and excess and self-absorption. His list of distractions is long, and he is saying to his readers that the time for these things is past. These practices need to be put away, so that we can spend time listening for the one who is always ready to call to us and guide us to the things he wants us to do. Our time is short, Peter says. Pay attention.
My God, help me listen for your guidance in the difficult questions I face. In this day, open me to all the ways you speak to me: through scripture; friends, family & strangers; and your creation. Amen.
Rebecca Davis (2009)