I was talking to a friend about today’s gospel. This is a person who knows far more than me about theology, Biblical translations and philosophical nuances. He was making lots of arguments and pointing out linguistic discrepancies from the original text. I’ll be honest, at one point I almost used a line from this reading, "speak plainly"! It was, as Oprah would say, an "aha" moment for me. We don’t need a PhD in religious studies to find meaning in God’s word. As members of Christ’s flock, the words have meaning because they come from Jesus. If this sounds a little circular in the logic, let me explain.
Would it surprise you if I said that Charlie Brown came to mind when I was pondering this week’s reading? The Jews gather around Jesus and implore him, "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." But hasn’t he been doing that all along? He even says, "I did tell you, but you do not believe." Of course, Jesus spoke in parables and sometimes cryptic, figurative language in his preaching. But his message is clear. In fact, prior to this passage in John, Jesus cures a man who was born blind. Does such a miraculous deed-especially for those who witnessed it first hand-seem confusing?
This is where Charlie Brown comes in. Remember what Charlie’s Brown’s teacher sounded like when she spoke? Can you hear it in your head-kind of like "wonk, wonk, wonk." You knew she was talking, but the words were just not coming in clearly. I think that’s what the doubters and the dissenters and skeptics must be hearing from Jesus. Jesus makes a blind man see, yet the message is somehow "wonky." In fact, for those folks, I don’t know if it would have mattered if Jesus told them exactly what they wanted to hear about his divinity and relationship to the Father in the most obvious and comprehensible words. They just don’t hear Jesus.
But for those who call themselves Christians, we have heard Jesus’ voice and like a beacon we are drawn to it. "My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. . . . No one will snatch them out of my hand." Generally I would be insulted if someone called me a sheep, but here it is the highest compliment Even sheep don’t follow their shepherd blindly. They wander off, they get lost, they get tempted away by distractions. They are vulnerable to all sorts of evil. But they always know their shepherd. They can hear his voice in a sea of noise and chaos leading them back to the flock. He rounds them up and brings them back to the fold.
When we are lost, when we have fears and doubts, we are still a part of Christ’s flock. We hear Jesus’ voice. We may drift off and get turned around like sheep sometimes do. The wolves may come, they may be waiting for one of us to be weak and alone. But no real harm could ever come to us because with Jesus as our shepherd, we are promised eternal life. He will never let us go. Nothing can snatch us away.
Marlo Serritella is on staff at the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago.