4th Sunday of Easter (C)
My dear friends, do you know what a siren is? What do you think of when you hear the word siren? As you know, this word has more than one meaning. If you’re like me, then perhaps the first thing you think of, when you hear this word, is a device that gives off a loud and sharp warning sound. Such as we might find on a police car or an ambulance. But that’s not the only meaning. As you may recall, the word siren also refers to a group of semi-human female creatures from Greek mythology, who use their beautiful voices to lead unsuspecting sailors to crash their ships on treacherous rocks.
Don’t you find it striking, my dear friends, that the same word could have such contrasting meanings? On the one hand, a disturbing sound that warns us of danger, and leads us to safety. On the other, a melodious voice luring us to our doom.
Well, there is no mention of sirens in our readings today. But we do find people listening to different kinds of voices. People following contrasting sounds. In the first reading, Paul and Barnabas preach the word of God in a place called Antioch in Pisidia, and some people listen to them, receive the word, and are converted to the Lord. These people heed the voice of God, and commit themselves to walking the difficult road that leads to the safety of eternal life.
On the other hand, the reading also speaks of how some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city are persuaded by the Jewish authorities to turn against Paul and Barnabas and expel them from their territory. Instead of listening to the word of God and finding life, these people follow an opposing set of voices, which will ultimately lead them to their doom.
But that’s not all. Aren’t Paul and Barnabas, as well as their Jewish opponents, themselves also following contrasting voices? The reading tells us that the Jewish authorities contradicted everything Paul said, because they were listening to an interior voice. They were prompted by jealousy. On the other hand, Paul and Barnabas are able to persevere in their mission, even to the extent of being filled with joy and the Holy Spirit, despite facing rejection and persecution. Why? Because they follow the voice of God.
What we find in the reading are two contrasting voices. Or, if you like, two different kinds of sirens. One leading people to safety, and the other to destruction.
Doesn’t this help us to better understand what Jesus is talking about in the gospel? The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life… The voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, operates like a warning siren, leading those who follow its call to the safety of eternal life. Not just eternal life after we die. But the fullness of life even while we remain on this earth. The kind of life that Paul, Barnabas, and the other disciples lived. Allowing us to experience joy, even in the midst of great struggle. To remain at peace, even when undergoing much suffering... Is there anyone here who is going through a great struggle, or undergoing much suffering?
Isn’t this also the experience that the second reading describes, when it speaks of people who have been through the great persecution, and who now stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his sanctuary? They will never hunger or thirst again… because the Lamb… will be their shepherd and lead them to springs of living water… These people find fullness of life, because they follow the Lord’s voice. A voice that speaks of love, holiness and peace.
How do you feel, sisters and brothers, when you hear all this? Don’t you desire to share the experience of those people in the second reading? Don’t you want to be among the sheep that belong to the Lord? Who follow the Shepherd’s voice and no other? If so, then isn’t it clear what we need to do? We need somehow to learn to recognise the Lord’s voice. To distinguish it from that of the enemy. We need, in other words, what Pope Francis writes about in his letter entitled Rejoice and Be Glad.
How can we know, the Holy Father asks, if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment…. It is a gift which we must implore…. (166) And the Pope goes on to say that (Christ) asks us to examine what is within us – our desires, anxieties, fears and questions – and what takes place around us – “the signs of the times” – and thus recognise the paths that lead to complete freedom (168).
The ability to read the interior movements that I experience within my heart, and the signs of the times happening all around me. Some leading to life and safety. Others to death and destruction. This is the precious gift that we all need to pray for and to practise, as true sheep of the Good Shepherd, as faithful disciples of the Lord.
Sisters and brothers, whether we realise it or not, in each of our lives, there are two kinds of sirens sounding. Which one will you decide to follow today?