I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
John 10: 25-30
Today’s two readings present us with a striking contrast of human dispositions. In the reading from Acts we encounter Barnabas who is sent by the Church in Jerusalem to Antioch where Greeks are becoming believers in the Lord Jesus. The narrator tells us: “When Barnabas arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11: 22-3). Barnabas comes upon a work of God in the Greeks of Antioch that is new and different. Yet he is able to discern it aright, and to appreciate the work and presence of God in it because “he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.”
In contrast Jesus, in John’s Gospel, continues to encounter religious leaders who either will not or cannot recognize the presence and work of the Father in him. In truth, no matter what Jesus does or says they cannot really “hear” him. Jesus says that they cannot hear and believe because they “do not belong to my sheep.” In Acts we see that the converts of Antioch and Barnabas recognize Jesus in each other because they do belong to him, because, as different as they are, they are his sheep. What makes Barnabas “a good man” is his refusal to limit God and God’s Spirit to his own designs and intellect. He is good in that he attends to everything and everyone in such a way as to listen for the shepherd’s voice. Because he has not constricted that voice by his own biases and prejudices, he is open to it however it may come to him. To hear Jesus’ voice, thus, requires of us that we cultivate the disposition of heart of which Maimonides spoke: “Accept the truth from whatever source it comes.”
One way we can practice listening with such openness for the voice of the shepherd throughout the experiences of our day is to cultivate listening from the heart rather than merely the intellect. The deeper truth and appeal of the persons and situations we encounter can be recognized only in love. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus does the works of God in feeding, healing, forgiving, and liberating. Yet, the closed minds of many around him lead them to continually demand yet another “sign” that will meet their criteria. They cannot recognize the love of the Father in the works of Jesus. On the other hand, Barnabas, perhaps despite his own expectation that the word and life of Jesus is for the people of Israel, is able to recognize God’s presence and love when he sees it in an unexpected place. Instead of demanding that God meet his criteria, his “good” heart sees in the lives of these Greek “Christians” the “hand of the Lord,” and he rejoices with them and encourages them. From what unexpected source this day will the truth emerge for us?
By means of the enlightened reason the spirit raises itself up in interior observation, contemplating and observing its inmost depths where the touch abides. At this point, reason and all created light are unable to go further, for the divine resplendence which hovers there and which constitutes this touch blinds all created powers of vision by its presence, which is unfathomable. All powers of understanding which are enlightened by merely created light are here like the eyes of a bat when confronted with the sun’s brightness. Nevertheless the spirit is constantly called and roused anew, by both God and itself, to fathom this deep stirring and to come to the knowledge of what God and this touch might be. The enlightened reason is constantly led to ask ever anew where the touch comes from and to make new soundings in order that it may follow this vein of honey to its source. But it knows as much about this on the first day of its attempt as it will ever know. Consequently the powers of reason and observation confess, “We do not know what it is,” for the divine resplendence which hovers there repulses and blinds all powers of understanding by its very presence. In this way God dwells in his resplendent glory above all spirits in heaven and on earth.
Jan van Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, II, C