Reflection for Sunday – April 17
Acts 13:14,43-52; Revelation 7:9, 14b-17; John 10:27-30
Preacher: Marilyn Catherine
Jane Goodall, the noted anthropologist, who has spent her life living with, learning about, protecting, and advocating for chimpanzees in the wild, describes an experience she had with a chimp who was being released back into the wild.
There was a distance to travel and the caged chimp was behaving very anxiously. Jane was not one of the chimp’s primary caretakers, but she knelt beside the animal during the entire trip talking to the chimp, trying to calm him down, telling him everything would be all right and that this new life in this new location was going to be beautiful. All the kinds of things a loving mother might say to soothe an upset child. When they reached their destination the chimp was released. But before he scampered off into the forest, he hopped up on top of the crate put his arms around Jane and held her in a close embrace for several long minutes.
As a scientist Jane admits she canʼt know what the chimp was trying to say with that embrace but everyone who witnessed it was moved and the question was raised: Did this animal know that this was the woman who was responsible for having saved, protected, and given him back his life?
Her lifelong devotion, love, and sacrifice had made it all possible. It does seem that this animal recognized the voice of his good shepherd. In the plugged-in world where we human beings travel these days, it is possible to be surrounded by voices 24/7. Amidst the cacophony how do we recognize that one voice, the voice of our Good Shepherd? What helps, what hinders?
In a way, Scripture works for us like those instruments that print out voice recognition patterns. There is a signature pattern, the gospel notes, by which the Good Shepherd can be identified. It is the pattern of the one who, when darkness falls, encircles his own, then leads them out to green pasture when daylight returns; the one who searches for the lost, the one who has established a relationship of attentive, intimate knowing and enduring faithfulness. When we hear the voice of such love our hearts instinctively respond. We know deep peace, release, belonging, joy. And even when what we hear is challenging, with it comes assurance, encouragement, and the promise of “life in abundance.”
But as we see in our first reading, even among those who listen, some will believe and some will reject what they hear. Sometimes the voices of fear, jealousy and abuse overtake us. Sometimes those voices are pressuring us from outside. Sometimes they are voices embedded within our own psyche. We know that Jesus experienced this—remember his agony in the garden. Remember all the times we hear recounted during his ministry when Jesus would need to get away to a secluded quiet place to pray with his Father—to listen for the voice of Love.
Following Jesusʼ model, seeking out little “get-aways”—even 20 minutes of silence and solitude a day—is a helpful practice especially when we can rest in communion with Creation. Springtime in Rochester! Flowers and birdsong returning, the fresh freedom that warm sun brings, delightful surprises of color popping up, the promise of budding trees just waiting for the call to unfurl and saturate our world anew in greening. All Creation resounds with faithfulness, beauty, and extravagant mercy.
On April 22, we celebrate Earth day. This year the voice of our papal shepherd, Francis, has spoken out clearly and passionately of the pressing need for all of us to care for our common home, the earth. We can expect to hear a lot more about what is needed and how we can care for her this week in conjunction with Earth Day. Maybe amid all those voices the Good Shepherd will be speaking to you. Make a point this week, to go outside with the intention to listen. Be it a walk in a park, or a short stop as you pass a bunch of daffodils. Listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd stirring, guiding, moving you in a new direction, renewing life in you. Let yourself be lit with divine love.