“Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved” (Jn 10:7-9).
Some may bristle at these words of Jesus stating that they are arrogant, for how can anyone claim that it is only through him that all are saved. Today, the feeling among many is that statements of this natures are against interfaith dialogue and what is wrong with religion today.
The first point that I would make, is that those who would critique these words would have a case to make only if Jesus is not who he claims to be and the Gospel witness shows quite consistently that Jesus is sent by God, that Jesus is the Son of God, and if Jesus is fully God and fully human, then this statement is true, and to say anything to the contrary would not only water down this reality but it would also be false.
As such, if this is a true statement, I do not feel that it is antithetical to interfaith dialogue. For dialogue to be authentic, each party must bring forth the breadth and depth of what they believe. To water it down to get along would not be a true dialogue. The requirement though would be that those engaged would be willing to speak and listen to each other. In doing so, there can be not only mutual dialogue but also mutual learning, for God reveals his Truth to all. We are better when we engage in an argument that is constructive and passionate, yet remember to be respectful. We have just forgotten how to do so without devolving into personal attacks and talking past each other.
There may be a broader message that Jesus is sharing in today’s Gospel. When Jesus talks about the sheep knowing the voice of the shepherd, he could be very well speaking about what St Ignatius called the discerning of spirits.
We hear all kinds of voices. They are coming at us from without and from within, from the many influences around us to our experiences of the past. With the invention of the internet and Google the voice chamber has only been magnified. The voice of Jesus leads us toward our highest hope and good, not an apparent of fleeting good, but the Good, what we have been created for. As St Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and we are restless until we rest in you.”
The challenge is being able to discern from the voice of the thief who seeks to lure us away from the fold to destroy us and instead develop an ear to hear the voice of the shepherd who will care for us. God loves us so much that he is willing to risk that we will reject him so that we are free to choose him. Even when we have been led astray, have exhausted all the glitter and flash, have been left wanting and empty, are worn out and wounded or even broken, even then we are not alone. If we are willing, Jesus the Good Shepherd will be there for us, lift and gently cradle us on his shoulders and bring us home.
Photo: Spending some quiet time last night listening to the voice of the Shepherd