My sheep know my voice

I remember the experience, as a child, of being accidentally separated from my parents. We were in a large department store. I don’t remember everything; I’m sure my mother must have been holding my hand.

But you know how it goes. Mom needs both hands for something and lets go. She tells the child, “Stay right here next to me, okay? Don’t go anywhere.” The kid nods obediently, but then sees some colorful bauble and wanders away, drawn from one distraction to the next to the next.

Then he turns to find his mother. But he’s surrounded instead by strangers. And suddenly, in a panic, he realizes he’s lost.

That’s the part I remember: the feeling of being lost.

That, and the feeling of being saved when I heard my mother call my name.

Throughout our review of the story of Mary Magdalene, we’ve seen the significance of the simple moment when Mary unwittingly turns away from her risen Lord, and he calls her back by speaking her name. One can only imagine the ups and downs of her life. Possessed by seven demons (Luke 8:2), she is rescued by Jesus and devotes her life to him. Then Jesus is taken away from her, first by the cross, and again by the empty tomb. She goes from being lost to being found to being lost again. But the moment she hears the resurrected Jesus call her name, she knows she’s been found again — and this time, for good.

In that story we might hear the echoes of one of Jesus’ great “I Am” statements: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10, CEB). He said this as he debated with some Pharisees who refused to believe in him. They didn’t understand his words:

The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The guard at the gate opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice. (vss. 2-4, CEB)

In an earlier post, I described briefly how sheep only come when their own shepherd calls; they follow the voice they recognize. For those of us who (like me) have no experience with sheep, here’s a more contemporary example.

Imagine a day care center filled with children. Each child may represent a different family, and at the end of the day, each will be picked up and led out by someone they know. They don’t even need to see their mom or dad walk in. They just need to hear the sound of a trusted caretaker’s voice, and hopefully, they will come when called. (Sometimes not, of course — but that’s because children aren’t just sheep.)

Matthew describes what it means for Jesus to be the Good Shepherd: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36, NRSV). We can be sure that when Mary Magdalene stood before him weeping, he had compassion for her, even if some of us might be tempted to chide her for not realizing who he was. He called her by name, and she responded immediately, because she knew his voice.

So take heart. You may feel lost, but Jesus knows your name.

Can you hear him calling?

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