Discerning the True Voice of the Good Shepherd

Fr. Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau

The Good Shepherd is an image so engraved in Christian literature that we have forgotten that it is a metaphor. It must have been the same for the Jews as well, since all the celebrated Jewish ancestors were shepherds: Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David and all in that line. Going beyond the metaphor, we need to meditate on the real meaning, the sheep and the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, the relationship of every Christian with one’s Master.

The meek and gullible nature of the sheep makes them susceptible to be led astray. Look at that statement from Prophet Jeremiah (11:19), “…like a trusting lamb, I was led to the slaughter.” That is where Jesus talks about being the Good Shepherd who will protect the sheep at the cost of his own life. A shepherd, knowing all too well his sheep, sings a song of the sheep in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”; I live carefree, since my shepherd takes care of me. This sheep knows the master very well and leaves all its cares unto him. Jesus instead, being aware of the danger of evil shepherds, warns us to be more discerning like snakes and innocent like doves. Discernment of the voices – that is what the Lord wants of us.

About discernment, Viktor Frankl wrote in his Man’s Search for Meaning, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” I have been captivated by this sentence over decades and particularly in the context of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. The sheep, we humans, get used to the Master’s call through the familiarity of his voice. The animals are conditioned to the tone and frequency of the shepherd’s voice. We have a choice beyond the conditioning. There is a space between our response and the Master’s call.

“My sheep hear my voice,” thus begins the Gospel today. This little sentence hides a lot more than it expresses. First of all, it indicates the existence of other voices (of other shepherds) and other sheep that do not belong to the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd seems to speak from the experience of evil or bad shepherds who sell or kill their sheep, or leave them to the cruelty of preying animals.

I often wonder, how do we get used to the voice of the Shepherd? How do we hear the voice of the Lord regularly? I used to listen to the Lord through a process of discernment based on the values that I had picked from Scripture  and the Church. There was a period of growth in me in which I tried to cancel the space between the voice and response. That was by choosing a passage from the Bible at random and trying to find a personal message in it. This practice, like taking a lottery ticket, is practiced around the world. I do not use this method anymore since it cancels out the personal process of discernment. The random usage of the word of God is more likely to satisfy human curiosity. Even the devil tempted the Lord using Scripture quotes. Since that realization came, I have started a process of discernment of listening to the voice of the Lord in Scripture, based on the global values that Scripture gives us.

The Good Shepherd stands out in the way he gives a choice to the sheep to listen to his voice. He does not force his voice on the sheep, but he does not allow anyone to get lost either. When the sheep wanders and gets lost, he goes in search of the lost sheep and returns carrying the sheep on his shoulders.

Every call demands a response from us—a discerned response. When we get used to that discernment, we are able to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd with accuracy.