"My Sheep Hear My Voice"
A few years ago, Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, visited the Senate to answer questions about his company’s practices regarding the privacy of the data that Facebook users share with that platform. During that session, it became more evident that the things that we regard as “private” are not as secure as we think. In more recent years, data breaches have frightened us into rabidly guarding our personal information as best as we can. Regardless of what you think about Mr. Zuckerberg and his company, the event did bring a lot of needed attention to what we share on Facebook, and how much we allow them to know about us.
Facebook knows a lot about me (and probably you too, if you’re using the free Social Media site). It knows where I attended high school, college, and seminary; it knows my relationship status (sorry, ladies, I’m taken); it knows my employer and job title; it knows that my birthday is in August and that I access the site often from a cell phone or tablet (and that those devices use iOS systems). Facebook knows these things because I have shared most of that stuff with them.
However, there are “other” things that the Social Network knows based on my movements around the Internet. It knows that I like word games, tennis, and Star Wars. In fact, it knows that I am a Sci-Fi geek and enjoy Tolkien’s works and Doctor Who. Oddly, it knows that I commute to work, that I tend to be politically conservative, and that I trend African American in my multicultural leanings (who knew?). It knows the advertisers whom I interact with, the websites I visited, the stories that I have clicked, and the places to which I have traveled.
And why does Facebook know all this other stuff that I have not directly shared with them? Because they love me and want my life to be super?
No! They know all this stuff because I am a sheep – just like millions of other users out there.
Facebook is a shepherd – but it is not a Good Shepherd – certainly not like Jesus is talking today. “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep.” Facebook “knows” me – and for that reason I will get advertisements for Star Wars ornaments, theology books, and Metamucil. Facebook, and other social networks like it, are shepherds of information. You and I are collections of data points for them. However, Facebook doesn’t care about me – and for all his talk of “customer care,” Mark Zuckerberg will never lay his life down for me. What gets me through the day in light of that is the fact that I don’t expect him to.
Why? Because there is One who already has laid His life down for me. Jesus Christ is the Shepherd that we follow. He knows you – and even those things that Facebook will never know. He loves you and lays His life down for you. This is what the Good Shepherd does – for the sake of the sheep – not for His own sake. That is the difference between the Good Shepherd and all the other shepherds who vie for our affection, attention, and loyalty.
The power of this reality comes to its fullest extent when we complete Christ’s teaching: “I know mine and mine know me.” That is the part that we have to learn. Do we know Christ – really? Is He an intimate part of our lives – not just “first” but everywhere, in every decision we make?
It seems to be our nature to seek out shepherds – to be loved and guided. This often leads us into trouble, especially when we are willing to believe anything to feel that security of the flock. However, unless we hear the echo of the voice of the Good Shepherd, we will be led astray eventually. As the saying goes, “not all who wander are lost;” but some who wander are lost – very lost at times – and only the Good Shepherd can bring them back.
As a priest, I am keenly aware of my role as a shepherd here – but we all need to remember that I, too, am a sheep. I can be seduced by the competing voices in our world – the slick advertising, the clever presentations, and the fake news. Pray for me; as I pray for you. As one Flock, untied behind the Good Shepherd, we are called to listen for His voice – not the latest newsfeed or freshest scandals.
Here, we are tuned to His voice as He speaks to us. Gently, let’s listen to Jesus, who knows us and makes us God’s children now. When we strive for holiness, we show that we are listening to His voice – that we have chosen our Shepherd; and when He calls, we will know Whom we are following.