Although this Sunday’s Gospel story precedes the resurrection in John’s Gospel narrative, it is appropriate for the Easter season because it looks ahead to the day when Jesus’ disciples will enjoy eternal life with him. The passage is, in fact, set much earlier, during a dispute in the Jerusalem Temple between Jesus and certain Jewish leaders.
Acts 13:14-52, Ps 100, Rev 7:9-17, Jn 10:27-30
How do you listen for the voice of Christ?
Where have you encountered it?
How have you responded?
Jesus had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate Hanukkah (Jn 10:22). Although it was not a traditional pilgrimage festival, many Jews journeyed to Jerusalem for the feast because it celebrated something that happened in the Temple. In 167 B.C.E., the Greek king who ruled the land of Israel rededicated the Temple to the worship of the Greek god Zeus. Two years later, a successful Jewish rebellion liberated Jerusalem from Greek rule, and the victors restored the altar in the Temple with an eight-day dedication ceremony.
Even today, the celebration of Hanukkah includes a liturgical reading from the Book of Numbers, Chapter 7. This very long chapter details the majestic dedication ritual of the first altar. At the end of this liturgy, a miracle occurred: “When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with God, he heard the voice addressing him from above the cover on the ark of the covenant, from between the two cherubim; and so it spoke to him” (Nm 7:89). This voice guided Israel to the promised land.
This passage provides the context for Jesus’ pronouncement, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Although in the Book of Numbers only Moses hears the divine voice, Jesus believed that many would hear the Father’s voice speaking through him. Much of this confidence came, one suspects, from the realities of Jewish life in his day. During the revolt against the Greeks, the high priest and many in the temple leadership, who should have enjoyed an intimacy with God similar to Moses’, proved to be tools of the Greek conquerors. Ordinary Israelites, by contrast, held firm to God’s teaching and remained faithful to the divine voice. Some of the animosity the New Testament reveals between the Sadducees, a priestly party, and the Pharisees, a lay movement, stemmed from this difference. And Jesus likely realized from it that mediators like priests and prophets are not necessary for those who have faith, and he promised his own disciples that those who believed in him would always be able to hear his voice.
This promise continues for Christ’s disciples today. The mysterious voice that spoke to Moses from above the ark is the same voice that preached the Gospel and continues to speak to Christians today through the Spirit. But the world produces much noise, which threatens to drown the divine voice completely. To believe that Christ is alive and still at work in the world today requires every Christian to pay attention to the voice that speaks within the heart. The catechism speaks of the ancient Semitic notion of the heart as the “place to which I withdraw” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2563). The call in this Sunday’s Gospel is to create that quiet place in the midst of the world’s distractions, where we, like Moses, can hear the voice of God directing our steps to our own promised land.