Which is the voice that we listen to – the Shepherd’s or the stranger’s? Anil Israel makes us ponder with his article.

In the Old Testament, when the Israelites were to occupy the Promised Land, they were instructed to get rid of their enemies or risk being influenced by them. When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations – the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons (Deuteronomy 7:1-3). Thereafter, we see the sad fall of certain Jewish kings who offered sacrifices to pagan gods under the influence of non-Jewish wives.

God permitted certain tribes to continue to remain. They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the Lord, which he commanded their fathers by Moses (Judges 3:4). The seven tribes could thus symbolise the seven capital sins – the enemies of our soul.

Many youngsters who come to a new country and a new language, find stark contrast to their faith life, than what was familiar in their homeland. On one side the language being new, it is not easy to understand the homily during Holy Mass. This difficulty to fully participate as in the past, is often a discouraging factor that one attempts to look for Holy Mass in a more familiar language, like English or their mother tongue. When an alternative eludes, it is quite a challenge to pursue and participate in Mass of the local language. To add to it sometimes the climate could also play a spoilsport. Some might easily give in to the ‘spirit of discouragement’ and let the habit of frequenting Holy Mass gradually decline.

I tend to look upon these non-favourable factors as the tribes left behind in the Promised Land – to play the role of the enemies of our soul. In the same way we can find several situations in our life that are potential sources of temptations, permitted in our life. These too can be looked upon as opportunities to run towards God for grace. We should be glad that we have struggles and trials, so that we can rely on God to help us overcome them. If everything were perfect, we would have been deprived of the urge to excel and grow. The caterpillar has to endure the painful struggle with the cocoon in order to emerge as a beautiful butterfly.

If there are certain divine truths or teachings of the Church that we find difficult to accept, let us attempt to consider if the hardness of our hearts (cf. Mark 10:5) prevents us from grasping and understanding eternal truths. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart (Ephesians 4:18). Let us remember that we all own the responsibility of the salvation of our soul. Those who commit sin are the enemies of their own lives (Tobit 12:10).

Let us not be led astray by the ruler of this world (John 12:31) who chose Non Serviam – I will not serve (Jeremiah 2:20). Let us hear Jesus asking us, as he spoke to St. Francis: Who is it better to serve, the Master or the Servant? Let us therefore choose to serve our Divine Master who conquered sin and death, and who continues to assure us: In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Jesus came to give us abundant life (cf. John 10:10). Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life (John 6:47). I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever (John 6:51). Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6:53). Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?’ (John 6:60). To them Jesus warmly responded: ‘Would you also like to leave?’ (John 6:67)

It all boils down to: Who is seated on the throne of my heart? To whose sceptre do I choose to obey? Who is the Lord and King of my life? Whom do I allow to reign my life? Jesus says, ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27), ‘they do not recognize a stranger’s voice’ (John 10:5). Are we deaf to the Shepherd’s voice? Do we give a listening ear to the stranger’s voice? Be careful, then how you listen (Luke 8:18).

If you delight in thrones and sceptres… honour wisdom (Wisdom 6:21), listen to me. Be quite and I will teach you wisdom(Job 33:33). Let us therefore strive to listen to his voice and pray for wisdom. For God loves nothing so much as the man who lives with wisdom (Wisdom 7:28). We will need to discipline ourselves to be able to listen to him. Gladly, he teaches discipline (Job 33:19).

We are called to be in the world but not of it. We do not belong to the world (John 15:19). We belong to Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:13), we belong to God (1 John 4:4), for, our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).

We therefore ought to walk according to the purpose of God (Wisdom 6:4) and live in uprightness of soul (Wisdom 9:3), in order to keep our hearts – the temple of the Holy Spirit – a pure dwelling place, and thus beautify the house of the Lord (Ezra 7:27).

A hymn from childhood days says it more poignantly:

Make God your guru,

Let Him tell you what to do,

Listen He’s calling clear and true.

Take time to listen,

Take courage to obey.

The inner voice is calling, calling,

Inner voice is calling, calling,

Inner voice is calling, calling you.

There are voices all around me

My enemies and my friends,

Do this, don’t do that,

The chorus never ends.

But I will always listen,

To the quiet inner voice,

It’s swift and definite,

And I have made my choice.

The stranger’s voice may be loud – attracting attention. But the Shepherd’s voice is always gentle and soft – demanding attention. Let us pray for the purification and fine-tuning of our inner ears to listen to His still small voice (1Kings 19:12). Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! (Ezekiel 37:4). The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God (John 5:25). All who are in the tombs will hear his voice (John 5:28). Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say (Isaiah 28:23). Get up, he’s calling you (Mk.10:49).

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