Which comes first for a Christian disciple: believing or belonging?
I believe that belonging is the starting point. Jesus calls his disciples to follow him long before he asks them about who they believe him to be.
In today’s passage, Jesus tells those wanting to know who he is that “you do not believe, because you do not belong.” They are not among his sheep. They are not part of his flock.
Becoming one of the flock involves three stages. First, the sheep “hear my voice.” There is some kind of call. Then, “I know them.” The sheep are known by Christ, even if they do not realize who Jesus is. Finally, “They follow me.” This calling provokes a response and a desire to belong.
Are these three elements embedded in our church programs? Do our worship, our pastoral care, our discipling, our mission, our evangelism enable people to hear the voice of God, to realize that God knows them, and then to follow Jesus?
Jesus goes on to say, “I give them eternal life,” and this sums up the message of the entire passage. Our belonging and believing are gifts from God. We hear God’s voice before we respond. We are known before we know. We follow because we have been given a path and a Shepherd to guide us on our way.
We belong to Christ and to Christ’s flock—the Christian community—locally and globally, on earth and in heaven.
Good Shepherd, may I be attentive to your voice today. May I be aware of what you know of me and alert to where you are leading me. Deepen my sense of belonging to you and to the people you have given me. Amen.
The imagery of sheep plays a prominent role in three of this week’s readings. Psalm 23 uses the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep as its guiding metaphor. The Lord is our shepherd and leads us to safe and fertile places. Even when we pass through a dark valley, the Lord is there protecting us with a shepherd’s weapon, a staff. In the Gospel reading, Jesus describes himself as a shepherd who calls his sheep. Because they are his, they hear his voice. In Revelation, Jesus becomes the sheep—or more specifically, the Lamb that was slain on our behalf. Those who endure will praise the Lamb forever. Acts is different in that it focuses on a resurrection story, a manifestation of God’s power working through Peter.
Read Acts 9:36-43. How can you be a witness and a vessel for God’s activity?
Read Psalm 23. Reflect on the questions the author poses in Tuesday’s meditation. Allow God’s guidance and correction to be comforting.
Read Revelation 7:9-17. How does knowing Christ as both Lamb and Shepherd help you work to bring about things not yet seen?
Read John 10:22-30. How does your faith allow you to hold your convictions without needing to grasp tightly to certainties?
Respond by posting a prayer.
This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.