I always connect the image of Christ, “the Good Shepherd” with our pastors, bishops and pope.
How the sheep recognize Jesus’ voice, and how they follow Him is of great interest to me. Jesus is the pastor who goes ahead, leading us. He knows and confronts every single danger or challenge that might face us even before we arrive there. That does not mean that he eliminates those challenges, but that He shows us how to overcome them. We read this in the letter to the Hebrews: “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need”. (Hb 4:15-16).
Following Jesus means sharing His path with Him, in that Jesus shows His greatness as the Good Shepherd because He does not walk a path different from our own. He gave us an example of how a spiritual leader should be, and this is precisely the definition of the relationship of the leader and the follower, one who walks behind a leader. They are not sent on their own, for wherever they go the leader has already gone before.
This helps us in a consideration of our spiritual leaders. The model is and will always be Jesus. But we should also ask these questions: How are we as leaders? Are we the first in line to serve? Are we the first to set an example?
This brings us to the second reason why the sheep follow: they recognize His voice. In the world in which we live, we hear different voices and we rightly ask: Which one should we listen to? Which one should we follow? Sometimes it is difficult, but when you invest in your own personal formation and education and you finally come to know the Lord, then it is easier to recognize His voice.
When you know someone very well, you know how that person thinks and how that person acts. And if someone tells you that he or she did or said something, you will know if it was really him or her, and you may say: “he/she would never do a thing like that”. Or you will affirm that “yes that is the person I know.” The same happens with the voice of Jesus. When you spend time to know Him, you will recognize His voice anywhere. He becomes familiar with you and you with Him. Then, in a world with different ideas, teachings and voices, you will know the one that belongs to Jesus.
We recognize His voice in the gospel, in the brother or sister who asks for help; we recognize Him in our spiritual leaders who reflect the image of the Good Shepherd.
How will we recognize the Lord’s voice if we have not already heard Him? For this reason, I encourage you to spend more time knowing Jesus, knowing His teachings and His works, understanding His boundless love for us and listening to His voice that call us to follow Him. And on our life’s journeys, we will know whom to follow because we will recognize His voice.