I love Facebook. It gives me the opportunity to stay connected to not only those that are far away from me, but also those in my own neighborhood. I love getting to know people through the different ways they respond to topics that come up on this particular social media. It interests me how passionately many argue about trivial things like which season is best; whether to hang toilet paper over or under; why dogs are better than cats; whether or not the facts of deflategate reveal that Tom Brady is a cheater; or more serious things like politics or controversial Supreme Court decisions. Each person is 100% sure that his or her opinion is the correct one. Each wants nothing else but to prove the other side wrong and convince the wayward sheep to come over to the correct flock. The problem is that both sides claim to have the same shepherd. I don’t know about you, but lately, there have been so many voices out there, I’m not sure who to listen to. Both sides have valid points. Both sides preach love and acceptance; they just define the terms differently. Both claim to be preaching what the Church teaches. What does it mean to love the sinner, but hate the sin? Should I be tolerant of viewpoints that are contrary to my own? What exactly is tolerance? Does tolerance equal acceptance of a certain view? Who do I listen to and how do I find the Shepherd in the midst of it all?
This week’s first reading from the book of Jeremiah says, “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord.” Years ago my husband and I bought a Garmin on Black Friday. (We hadn’t known we needed one, but it was a bargain we couldn’t pass up.) GPS trackers were fairly new, at least I didn’t know much about them, but the thought of this machine telling me step by step the direction I have to go to get to my desired destination seemed to be one of the coolest inventions ever. A couple of months later, I traveled across Iowa to take my oldest daughter to visit the college she intended on attending the following fall. I put my destination into the Garmin and trusted the woman’s voice in the machine would lead me there. About halfway through our trip, I made a wrong turn. And then another. And another. Garmin kept saying “Recalculating” and I kept yelling at her to be clearer. Eventually, she led me down a gravel road, which, because it was February in Iowa, was completely snow covered. We ended up sliding in a ditch. Thankfully, a farmer just happened to be driving his tractor down this seemingly deserted road. He pulled us out and pointed us in the right direction to make it back to the main road. Once there, I looked on an actual paper map in order to find our way to the college. Garmin rode the rest of the way in the trunk.
I hate feeling lost; especially when I trust that I am traveling in the right direction but in reality, have been deceived. Garmin’s voice led me astray because the machine did not have all of the correct information about rural Iowa. To it, each road was equal. It tried to send me the most direct route instead of the most efficient or safest one. Garmin didn’t know that it was misleading me any more than many of the voices trying to convince us which way to go do. Garmin’s information wasn’t technically wrong, just incomplete. I had to look to the actual map for the best way to my destination.
Mark’s gospel this week talks about the apostles returning to Jesus after he had sent them out to teach the people. The apostles reported to Jesus all that they had done in hopes of pleasing him. This job of preaching to the people without Jesus’ immediate presence must have been quite stressful. All of them had to be exhausted. Jesus recognized this and said, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while. So they went off in the boat to a deserted place.” When Jesus disembarked, he noticed that the people had followed them. “His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” I, like these lost people, wander like sheep without a shepherd. There are so many trying to be heard; sometimes I hear the loudest voices, instead of the one of my Shepherd.
John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them and they follow me.” In order to recognize the voice of the Shepherd, first I must know my Shepherd. I’m not going to be able to recognize his voice by spending more time on Facebook reading my friend’s posts. I need to spend more time with him instead. I can pick out my husbands voice easily in a crowd because I know him so well. The Shepherd’s voice rarely is the loudest. However the more I know him; and the more you know him, the easier it will be for us to focus on following his voice.