If you knew God was speaking to you, it is likely you would listen. It is even more likely that you would be trembling in fear and, like countless times in the Bible, have to be encouraged not to be afraid.
In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus speaking as the Good Shepherd, which makes us sheep. Sheep have the reputation for being rather dull, but I suppose if you look at the course of history from the outside, say the way an alien race might see us, perhaps the sheep would come out ahead.
In the gospel reading, Jesus does not lead with a conditional statement: “If my sheep hear my voice”, he says “My sheep hear my voice”; it is a declaration. As a matter of fact, real sheep (not metaphorical ones) have been reported to be as good as people in distinguishing others in a crowd (Sheep 101.info). So why use sheep to make his point?
As in most of Jesus’ figurative statements, he uses something familiar to his audience; however, like Paul and Barnabas in the first reading, his audience was divided: some followed, some thought he was a nut.
The Gospel of Christ isn’t a very attractive philosophy. Following is, for us, a becoming, a transformation into someone who recognizes Christ by his “voice”. Where do we hear Christ’s voice? Most clearly, we hear the voice of Christ in those who are oppressed, who are marginalized and unjustly punished, who are poor in spirit and materially poor (the two often go together). It is the “least of these”; but to put this phrase in context from the 25th Chapter of Matthew, the “least” are his disciples. Following Christ puts us at the end of the line, so the poor become not always those outside our community, but those inside our community as well. It is in our poverty, the ordinariness of our daily lives, that Christ speaks, and we respond. Last week, Christ said to his disciples “Feed my sheep”; we are those sheep; we are those shepherds.