GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY
First Reading: Acts 2:14a.36-41; Psalm: 23. R. v. 1; Second Reading: 1Pt 2:20b-25; Gospel: Jn 10:1-10
DISCERNING THE VOICE OF THE STRANGER
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers (Jn 10:5).
These words of Jesus suggest that his sheep do not listen to the voice of a stranger but only his voice. But Jesus however was not underestimating the voice of a stranger. In fact, it is paramount to underscore that the voice of a stranger is very powerful. So powerful enough to inject a divisive and destructive energy among the sheepfold of Christ. A recent event offers an illustration.
This story is about a taxi driver turned pastor. This Kenyan pastor allegedly preached that starvation brought salvation. The death toll started with 73 in his Good News International Church. But upon investigation, many starving followers of his Church were found; four of whom had died already. And then the most shocking was the discovery of dozens of dead bodies buried in mass graves in ‘Shakahola Forest’ where the pastor’s followers have been starving themselves to death. These followers were convinced among other things by their pastor to believe that fasting to death was the quickest way to heaven. This had also led to the death of children who were starved to death in the custody of their parents. This pastor who had been arrested on several occasions is presently in police custody and would be arraigned in court on May 2, 2023.
Now, does any Christian need any biblical proof to disprove this bizarre teaching that fasting to death was the quickest way to heaven? Who would think or believe that this queer spirituality would be preached, accepted and practiced by those who claim to follow the gospel way? Where did Jesus teach in the scriptures that fasting to death brings salvation? When Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights, did he continue the fast thereupon until he dropped dead? Is there any place in the scriptures that Jesus approved of suicide in the name of practicing any form of self-imposed piety? It is supposed that a good shepherd leads by example for the sheep to follow. Why then did these followers choose to die in this manner while their pastor ate and kept alive?
As we ponder on all these questions, it goes without saying that whatever voice convinced these followers to starve themselves to death; it was definitely not the voice of Jesus. It was the voice of a stranger. And obviously, it was a very deceptive and powerful voice.
Jesus the Good Shepherd is interested in the salvation of the lost sheep as much as he is interested in the safety of the ones who listen to him and follow him. It is of prime importance therefore to delve into this stealth influence of the voice of the stranger that preys on the innocence of some naive followers of the gospel. Because in our world today, the voice of the stranger is gradually becoming louder and louder. People don’t just choose to get lost; someone or something lures them away. Ordinarily, sheep are trained to listen and follow the voice of their shepherd. If a sheep failed to do so, that sheep would get lost and exposed to danger because it goes on a way different from the safe way that the shepherd leads it. And a sheep can only go a different way when it listens to a voice different from that of its shepherd – The voice of a stranger.
There is something peculiar about the stranger’s voice. It often leads us away from the right and reasonable things we usually know and practice. It goes out of the normal and most often irrational. It promises exciting rewards that can turn pain into adventure and reason into emotion. Now, we need to be careful here else we mistake this as the voice of the true shepherd. For the voice of the stranger always attempt to beguile us to believe that Christianity is all about enduring everything to gain heaven. But the Christian faith isn’t irrational and selfish. The Christian faith doesn’t whet our appetite to try anything different from what Christ already had taught us. How then can we differentiate the voice of the Good Shepherd from the voice of the stranger?
The Good Shepherd protects and does not expose us to danger for Christ is the door of the sheepfold that protects his sheep from harm and keeps them safe. The Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name and leads them to wherever he wants them to go and whatever he wants them to do. The Good Shepherd leads his sheep to greener pastures to sustain their well-being and not to snuff life out of them. The Good Shepherd defends his flock from physical harm and returns them quickly to the sheepfold before dusk to keep them away from nocturnal predators. In fact, the Good Shepherd puts his life on the line and can endure suffering just like Christ to safeguard the well-being of his flock. Any voice that opposes these paradigms of the Good Shepherd is obviously the voice of a stranger.
We need to be cautious on the voices we listen to. We need to be circumspect regarding any voice that beckons on us to try something completely different from what Christ already taught us. Truly, there are many strangers and robbers today who do not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way. Strangers and robbers who jump the fence to steal and kill and destroy. They know they cannot go through the gate because the gatekeeper will not recognise or open to them. So they go in by another way disguised as true shepherds to deceive and destroy. Any voice that goes against the examples of Christ the Good Shepherd is the voice of the one who came in through another way. For we cannot pass through Christ the gate of the sheepfold and go against his ways.
Parents, teachers, and leaders both religious and secular are called to borrow a leaf from the examples of Christ the Good Shepherd. We have to go through the gate of the sheepfold if we must become true shepherds to our children. We have to pass through the shepherding hands of Christ to become good guardians. If we failed to do this, the stranger would jump in by the fence and lead our children or subjects to where they would rather not want to go. Because we live in a society where strange voices promises exciting experiences and advances relativism and self-reliance.
Our goal is to silence the stranger’s voice and to make more audible the voice of the Good Shepherd. And the voice of Christ the Good Shepherd can only be made more audible today if we modelled our lives after the examples of Christ who came that we may have life, and have it abundantly.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Jesus the Good Shepherd, give us the discerning spirit to identify your voice amidst the strange voices we hear and follow your lead. Amen