In the world of technology, voice recognition software is on the cutting edge. The computer is “trained” to recognize voice as an input device. It remembers the way you say each word, in spite of and because of accents and inflections that everyone uses. It uses the grammatical context and frequency of use to predict the word you wish to input. The computer learns to recognize when you are giving it a command. I have recently seen a different form of voice recognition—a much more intimate version. A friend of mine has a wonderful baby who is 8 months old and is struggling with some developmental issues. At this point in his development, his brain is not understanding what his eyes are seeing, so it seems that he can’t focus on faces or objects. As I watched my friend lean over her son’s bed, nuzzle her face into his while saying his name softly, his head turned and his face lit up. He recognized his mother’s voice as one who feeds him, cares for him, snuggles him and loves him. He responds to the sound of her voice.
The gospel of John gives us the words of Jesus which illustrates the beauty and wonder of voice recognition. Jesus was giving his listeners an allegory as he identified himself as the shepherd and his followers as the sheep. This was an illustration that his listeners would know and understand as it was so much a part of their life in pastoral Palestine. Eastern shepherds would keep their flocks in an enclosure in the evening and sleep in front of the doorway to keep them protected. The shepherd would know his flock well from hours spent with them and would name them individually. To the eye of another, all the sheep would look alike, but the shepherd would know them from subtle physical and behavioral distinctions. He would call them by name and they would respond to him because they knew him as one who would care for them and keep them safe. If flocks were mixed, the shepherd would stand and call for his sheep with his flock gathering around him because they knew it was with him that they belonged. If a stranger would call for the sheep, they would scatter because they did not recognize the voice and respond with fear and confusion. Their shepherd calls them and they follow because they recognize the voice of one who cares for them. They respond because they know his voice.
We have a shepherd who knows our name and offers us love and security in the midst of uncertainty and chaos. He continually calls us, but unless we become familiar with his voice, his calls get lost in the cacophony of sounds that fill our life. In a story that Jesus shared, the sheep knew his voice because of the time they spent with him, the number of times that they heard his voice, and in the trust they developed by connecting the sound of his voice with the peace and security that he provided. This is true not only in the relationship of sheep and shepherd, but of Christians to Christ. Recognizing the voice of our shepherd comes from time spent, familiarity developed, the ability to predict phrases, and the connection with the peace and security that he provides. This is a voice that brings life, creates delight, provides refreshment and surrounds us with peace and comfort. Responding to his voice is the key to abundant living---living that is full of peace, security and hope that contrasts with the chaos and noise that sometimes pervades our existence. It is a life more than we could ever hope for---both now and in the future.
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