This morning our Sunday School Class begins chapter 10 of the Gospel of John. Jesus tells the parable of the good shepherd in the first section of this chapter, verses 1 - 10. As we begin, N.T. Wright would remind us that the question of who Jesus is - a prophet, the Messiah, the son of God? - dominated the previous chapter, chapter 9. Wright, John for Everyone: Chapters 1 - 10, p. 148. What we read in Chapter 10 responds to that question.
The theme of the parable is that sheep will know their shepherd by his voice and will follow him on account of that knowledge. "Someone else can come to the sheepfold and they [the sheep] won't go near him, even if he calls the right names. They are listening for the one voice that matters, the voice they trust." ibid.
Yesterday, was a "work day" at our church. Members and friends of our community turned out to paint, clean, and weed the buildings and the grounds. Carol, our expert painter, was with a team that painted the pastor's study. I worked on a large, out of control flower bed at one of the church entrances (my gifts are cutting, hacking and pulling at growing things, and now and then planting them). I didn't see Carol all morning, but now and then I heard snatches of conversations from the pastor's study, the closed backdoor of which was near where I was working. There were several people working in there, but sometimes I recognized Carol's voice. Not a particular word or sentence, but I heard her voice. It made my work pleasant.
Lately, we have had some discussions in our family about the impact on a little baby of being taken from its mother at birth and placed in foster care or adopted, even for the best of reasons. We are beginning to understand what a profound change this is for the little one.
About ten years ago, some research addressed the question of whether an unborn baby would know its mother's voice:
Working with researchers at Zhejiang University, [Barbara] Kisilevsky [a nursing professor at Queens University in Ontario, who conducted the
research with a team of psychologists from Queens, and obstetricians in
Hangzhou, China] tested 60
women in the final stage of pregnancy. All the mothers were
tape-recorded as they read a poem out loud. Then the mothers were
divided into two groups. Half the fetuses heard the recording of their
own mother. The other half heard another mother, but not their own.
In both cases, the poem caused a change in the baby's heart rate. The
heart rate accelerated among those who heard their own mother's voice,
and decelerated among those who heard a voice other than their mother's.
Deceleration of the heart rate is "an attention mechanism," Kisilevsky
says. The heart-beat among fetuses who heard an unfamiliar voice slowed
down, she says, because they were paying close attention to a voice they
did not recognize. In other words, they were trying to figure out who
The fact that the heartbeat changed in both cases — up for mom, down for
someone else — shows the fetuses "noticed both voices," she says, and
could tell one from the other. [from an ABC News report here. For the research report itself, go here.]
We know Jesus' voice. In the beginning was the Word, a voice. God's speaks us into existence. He says, Come. We trust. We follow.